Renovation at Meeker Memorial's senior behavioral unit is wrapping up

LITCHFIELD -- Major renovation is turning Meeker Memorial Hospital's Center for Senior Behavioral Health into an environment that's open, welcoming and calming.The redesign also incorporates measures that increase safety for a vulnerable populati...

Kyle DeVetter, from left, Lori Rice, Anne McKinley and Kyle Rasmussen show off the nurse’s station, one of the new features that will greet patients and visitors to the renovated Center for Senior Behavioral Health at Meeker Memorial Hospital. ANNE POLTA | TRIBUNE

LITCHFIELD - Major renovation is turning Meeker Memorial Hospital’s Center for Senior Behavioral Health into an environment that’s open, welcoming and calming.
The redesign also incorporates measures that increase safety for a vulnerable population - adults over age 55 with acute psychiatric issues most commonly related to dementia.
The $1.56 million project will help take Meeker Memorial to the next level in specialized care for older adults, said Kyle Rasmussen, chief executive.
“We have the best staff and now we want to have the best facilities around to match it,” he said.
Construction, which started in November, is wrapping up in the next few weeks. Staff and patients will move into the new space in mid-June.
The Center for Senior Behavioral Health is one of only a handful of mental health units in rural Minnesota that specifically serve geriatric patients.
The need for mental health services is acute statewide but especially so for older adults who face issues unique to their age. The inpatient senior unit at the Litchfield hospital draws its referrals from up to 150 miles away.
It’s designed for those 55 and older, with the average admission in the 70- to 90-year-old age range. Although some have longstanding mental illness, the majority have psychiatric issues related to some form of dementia that has developed later in life, according to Anne McKinley, nurse manager of the unit.
“Along with that comes a lot of the physical needs,” she said. In addition to mental health issues, they may have multiple chronic diseases, might be on several prescription medications, have difficulty with vision or mobility, and face special risks such as falls.
Many general psychiatric units aren’t equipped to meet the needs of this population, nor do older patients fit well with younger adult mental health patients, McKinley said.
To help fill this gap in regional services, Meeker Memorial Hospital created its senior behavioral health unit in 2000. The eight-bed unit was expanded in 2009 to 10 beds.
Last year the hospital turned its attention to an upgrade, this time to enhance the entire unit.
One of the needs was to develop “a sense of place,” according to architect Paul DeVetter of the DeVetter Group.
“We wanted to soften it up, to make it a more comfortable, natural place to be,” he said. “The biggest thing was to create a better experience - a better experience for the patient and a better experience for the staff.”
Instead of a corridor with rooms branching off on either side, patients and visitors now are welcomed into a space that combines the nurse’s station with an open living area for mingling or relaxing. A protected balcony allows patients to step outdoors. Windows were enlarged to bring in more natural light.
The overall square footage was expanded from 4,000 to 6,000 square feet.
It will allow patients to leave their hospital room and move around, McKinley said. “Sometimes wandering can be a good thing.”
Safety was also a major consideration, Rasmussen said. The renovation removed barriers and created more visibility for nurses to see and respond to patient needs, helping reduce the risk of falls and other safety issues for this population, he said. New beds have built-in alarms to alert the staff when a patient tries to get out of bed unsupervised.
It also will improve staffing efficiency, DeVetter noted.
As the senior population rises, there’s a growing need for specialized care, McKinley said. Although psychiatric issues severe enough to require hospitalization only develop in a relatively small percentage of older adults, access to services is crucial when a crisis arises, she said. Nearly three-fourths of the patients admitted to the Center for Senior Behavioral Health come from outside Meeker County, most often from nursing homes. While they’re hospitalized, they receive care from a team that includes a psychiatrist, a medical physician who can help manage medical issues such as diabetes or congestive heart failure, and psychiatric nurses, a social worker and activity coordinator.
Discharge planning is a major piece of the puzzle, McKinley said. “Our goal is to have them return where they came, although that’s not always possible.”
DeVetter said the staff was closely involved in designing the new unit.
“This was one of the more engaged groups we’ve worked with,” he said. “These are people who are invested in what the outcome is. It was a very good team.”
“It’s exciting to see the whole design process come together. They really paid attention to detail,” said Lori Rice, communications manager for Meeker Memorial.
The result will be “the nicest geriatric health unit in the state,” Rasmussen said. “We’re doing our part in the region to take care of the things we can take care of. It’s the right thing to do.”

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