County, city facilities prepare for regional mental hospital's closure

Published: Jan. 14, 2015 at 2:13 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 11, 2015 at 2:13 AM CST
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North Alabama Regional Hospital in Decatur will close by June 30. (Source: WAFF)
North Alabama Regional Hospital in Decatur will close by June 30. (Source: WAFF)

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - "What will become of the patients?"

When we first reported on the impending closure of Decatur's North Alabama Regional, a state-funded mental hospital, the majority of comments posted on social media asked how patients will be able to get the same quality of care.

State officials are closing the hospital by June 30, with patients expected to be transitioned over to facilities closer to their homes.

Workers at Wellstone Behavioral Health's new 16-bed "crisis stabilization center" in Huntsville are making the rounds, making sure mental patients committed here are making progress.

The center is one of five new ones in North Alabama that have opened in the past year as the state shifts its emphasis from big centralized hospitals to community-based care.

"Clinically, we believe it's a better model because it keeps people in their home community," said Brian Davis, Wellstone CEO. "Families have better access to come visit their loved ones. When people are discharged, they're being discharged within the same continuum of care."

The closing of North Alabama Regional was not much of a surprise for administrators at centers like these, which are meant to take care of patients for half the price of a big state hospital.

As these regional crisis units came online, the number of beds used, and available, at North Alabama Regional has been cut back sharply.

"We only had access to 20 beds and we have more than that with the crisis stabilization units," said Marie Hood. "They're just in different cities rather than here in Decatur."

Administrators say the community based centers offer better care options for less money and getting out of the institutions altogether into outpatient care would, and can save still more.

'It's not just a way to use dollars better. We along with the leadership of the department of mental health feel like this is a better approach," Davis said.

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