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Construction possible for psychiatric hospital in Willmar

WILLMAR -- Preliminary plans to develop a 16-bed psychiatric hospital in Willmar could include construction of a new building instead of renovating an existing structure on the Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus.

Rice Memorial Hospital is still considering whether or not to participate with the state on constructing the building and operating the program, said Lorry Massa, Rice CEO. If Rice does participate, a new, free-standing hospital will likely be built.

The community behavioral health hospital is needed to replace the adult mental health program at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center.

The state is moving that program off the campus and relocating clients into smaller hospitals throughout the region.

The situation is being replicated across the state as treatment centers are being closed. Most of the Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus was sold to a private company, MinnWest Technology, for a technology center. Several buildings are still owned by Kandiyohi County and are being used for other state programs.

Massa said the high cost of renovating the WRTC medical building -- estimated at more than $1 million -- and the fact that MinnWest would have an option to buy that building in five to 10 years, makes new construction a better option.

Rod Kornrumpf, administrator for adult mental health services with the state Department of Human Services, said new hospitals have been built, or are in the process of being built, in Alexandria, St. Peter, Rochester, Annandale, Fergus Falls, Baxter and Wadena.

Approval was just given to build a new hospital in Cold Spring and a building renovation is taking place in Bemidji.

Most of the new one-story structures cost $2.5 million to $3 million to build. In some cases a private developer has built the hospital and the state is leasing the facility.

"They fit very much in the community," said Kornrumpf, with some facilities located in residential neighborhoods and some located in commercial areas.

In some of those communities a local hospital, like Rice, is providing the services. In other communities, the state is, said Kornrumpf. He said each 16-bed facility takes the equivalent of 35 full-time staff members, including the equivalent of 1½ psychiatrists.

It's not sure what will happen in Willmar.

The options include Rice Hospital building and operating the hospital; a partnership for construction and operations between the state and Rice; or having the state do both.

Massa said Rice currently operates its own short-term mental health hospital, which typically keeps patients for five to six days, and it would make sense to participate with the new community behavioral hospital program, which can include stays of 20-plus days.

"It would make some sense for us to operate that unit," said Massa, and provide a "single point of entry" and a "unified approach" for individuals who need that kind of care.

Besides the issue of building a facility, Massa said the biggest challenge would be recruiting enough psychiatrists. Rice currently has one psychiatrist on staff and could use three. A shortage of psychiatrists in the state has made recruiting difficult.

Before Rice agrees to participate, Massa said the board of directors will want to know that the project won't be a financial burden to the hospital. "Our board would be willing to do it if we could break even," said Massa, who met this week with county staff.

Massa said Rice is "taking a serious look" at participating in the community behavioral hospital project.

Kandiyohi County Family Services Director Larry Kleindl said he wants to keep the process moving to make sure a hospital is built in Kandiyohi County.

Kornrumpf said there are no plans at this point to build the hospital anywhere else in the 18-county area except in Kandiyohi County, even if Rice Hospital doesn't participate.

He said, however, the hospital in Marshall is renovating space there for a 12-bed psychiatric unit and there are plans to better utilize existing beds at the Worthington hospital. Between the beds in Willmar, Marshall, Worthington and Cold Spring, Kornrumpf said there should be adequate space for the number of clients that typically use the WRTC for long-term care.

The WRTC adult mental health unit has 60 beds. Last week there were about 45 people in the facility.

New programs, including intensive residential treatment facilities and teams of mental health care professionals that travel to people's homes, may reduce the need for some long-term care, said Kornrumpf.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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