Hospitals prepare for 'domino effect' of mental facility closure

Published: Jan. 15, 2015 at 1:23 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 12, 2015 at 1:23 AM CST
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North Alabama Regional, the area's only long-term mental care center, is due to close by June....
North Alabama Regional, the area's only long-term mental care center, is due to close by June. (Source: WAFF)

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Plans are in the works to close North Alabama Regional Hospital in Decatur this summer.

Officials with the State Department of Mental Health made the announcement Wednesday. They say the closing will allow for a more community based mental health system.

41 patients are currently being housed at North Alabama Regional.

Area hospitals say they are concerned about the closure, mainly because it's unclear just how much it will impact them.

"Any domino that falls, like the closing of a facility, it pushes a lot of other dominoes down," said Communications and Marketing Vice President at Huntsville Hospital, Burr Ingram.

Burr predicts Huntsville Hospital will be one of those dominoes. Problem is, he said neither Huntsville, nor any other hospitals in our area, are equipped to handle certain patient needs. It only has the resources for short-term stays.

"We're not prepared to take care of those patients in any long-term situation," said Burr.

Burr expects to feel the pressure most in the Emergency Room.

"(The ER) ends up bearing a lot of the brunt of this," said Burr. "Because that is the last place and the first place that many people will go."

According to Burr, meeting the mental health needs in this state is a challenge, and what he calls a "significant, if not critical" problem.

Critics of the state's decision to close the hospital say the community based mental health centers aren't ready and won't be able to handle the overflow of patients.

The state disagrees, assuring that excellent patient care and public safety will be maintained.

Burr believes a case can be made for both formats of care, centralized hospitals and community-based systems. He said Huntsville Hospital will do its part during the transition.

"It will have an impact," said Burr. "It will impact our communities, it will impact our hospital and it will impact anyone who takes care of behavioral health patients."

Some of the community mental health centers believe despite the inevitable growing pains, the impact will be a good one. Those centers are working with the state to provide more beds and services for patients in need.

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