Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center forced to close one wing

Friday, December 5, 2008 | 5:21 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA  — Mental health care in Columbia is the latest area to feel the squeeze of the economic recession.

As a result of a tightening budget, the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center announced Thursday the closing of one wing, which holds 15 in-patient beds. The move leaves the center with a capacity of 45 in-patient beds.

The center had already been operating above its stated capacity of 59 beds, and had been unable to treat all patients needing care, Chief Operating Officer Marla Smith said.

This marks the second such closure in Columbia in recent months, with Boone Hospital Center closing its behavioral health unit in August.

Boone County Mental Health Board member Elaine Larson said patients unable to receive care at the Mid-Missouri Mental Health center must travel outside of Columbia to St. Louis or Kansas City for care.

"We've been diverting patients for the last two years," Smith said. "The reality is, with the nature of our business the last few years, we could have definitely used more beds."

Smith said the state of the economy and projected inability to meet this fiscal year's budget forced the closure.

"We've been operating with a stagnant state budget for the last two years but having more and more patients come through our doors each year," Smith said. "This year, there's just not that safety net." 

No jobs were lost as a result of the closing, but Smith said that concern remains about future cuts.

"People are worried. I think they're concerned that their jobs may be lost and with our ability to serve the community's mental health care needs," Smith said.

The center did not close the beds immediately, but it plans to cut the 15 beds by the end of December as it discharges patients.

Smith said the hope is the economy will allow the center to get back to its 59-bed capacity following the end of its fiscal year in June.

Smith said, "We're hurting. We need more community-based services and in-patient beds, but the only way we can do that is with more funding."

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