Rice backing away from plan to develop a unit on RTC campus

WILLMAR -- Rice Memorial Hospital may be backing away from plans to develop a 16-bed inpatient mental health unit on the Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus.

WILLMAR -- Rice Memorial Hospital may be backing away from plans to develop a 16-bed inpatient mental health unit on the Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus.

Officials with the city-owned hospital recently learned it'll cost far more than anticipated to renovate the treatment center's medical building for inpatient psychiatric care.

The hospital's board of directors hasn't said yet that the project should be killed outright. Board members also agreed at a meeting Wednesday to delay making any decisions until more information is available.

The mounting cost of renovation, however, is making hospital officials seriously question the financial feasibility of the project.

"I think there are some clear advantages to being involved, but at what risk? Those are the questions before us," said Lorry Massa, CEO of Rice Hospital.


The proposed 16-bed unit, to be operated by the hospital, would replace psychiatric beds that will be lost when the state of Minnesota closes Willmar Regional Treatment Center.

It has been planned as one of several similar small facilities scattered around the region.

Discussions between Rice and the Minnesota Department of Human Services have been ongoing for more than a year.

Some of the details have already been nailed down. For instance, the location -- in the regional treatment center's medical building, which is now owned by Kandiyohi County -- has been selected. A proposed lease for the space has been drawn up and Rice has been working with an architect to develop a renovation plan.

The process hit a snag when the renovation plans were reviewed by the Minnesota Department of Health's health facilities division. Hospital officials learned that the building doesn't meet the federal code required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

This wasn't an issue in the past because the facility was operated as a state institution, Massa said. But if it is to be operated under Rice Hospital's license and Medicare provider number, it must first be brought up to code.

The estimated price tag: more than $1 million. Original estimates were for a cost between $200,000 and $400,000.

Extensive renovation would be necessary, such as widening a six-foot corridor to eight feet, Massa said.


Officials with the Minnesota Department of Health have suggested seeking a waiver from the CMS requirements. Someone from the Health Department will investigate this possibility, Massa said.

The bigger question for Rice Hospital, he said, is whether it should continue pursuing the project.

"How strategically important is it for us to do this?" he asked.

Aside from the building issues, hospital officials also have raised concerns about how the unit will be staffed. It's difficult to recruit psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical nurse specialists in mental health to rural Minnesota, Massa said.

While Rice has operated on the assumption that many of those positions will be taken by current state employees at the regional treatment center, that's not a given, Massa said. "The risk is that a lot of time passes by and those people are taking jobs elsewhere."

Massa told the board Wednesday that he thinks there still might be a role for Rice Hospital in providing some of the region's psychiatric care.

"It's understood that these 16 beds are going to be needed," he said. "I think the question for us is do we want to be involved?"

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