COLUMBIA — Already overburdened and now operating with 15 fewer in-patient beds, the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center is making one change in operations and is considering another.
Amid talk of the center possibly joining forces with University Hospital, the center will open a 23-hour, four-bed observation area on Jan. 15, said Bob Bax, Missouri Department of Mental Health spokesman. The observation area will be used to help avoid committing patients for an inpatient stay unnecessarily.
"It will help the hospital operate effectively in light of the temporary reduction of those 14 beds," Bax said. "It will help relieve some of the pressures that they're going to be experiencing."
Bax said that though there has been some talk of the center and hospital combining, all discussion is strictly in the preliminary phases.
Bax likens the observation area to an emergency room, where a person may come in complaining of chest pain, and the determination must be made whether the person needs to be admitted.
"There's situations where someone comes in, and you have a suspicion that they may not need the full stay in the hospital," said Lisa Thomas, psychiatrist and Boone County Mental Health Board member. "For example, someone whose intoxicated, once they sober up, there's a possibility that they won't need the time in the hospital, and they can avoid all the time, expense and aggravation of a full admission."
The recent closing of an inpatient wing came because the center couldn't meet this fiscal year's budget. Prior to the closing of the 14 inpatient beds, the center was already operating between 110 and 115 percent above capacity and having to divert patients to other facilities, Bax said.
Boone Hospital Center closed its inpatient mental health ward in August, so the mental health center is left as the only inpatient facility in Columbia. This means when it is full, patients must be diverted to other facilities around Missouri.
"The move really relates to the situation where the person shows up to the facility, and there's not a bed for them, and they have to be transported," Bax said. "When local law enforcement has someone they have to transfer, it's a hardship. It's certainly something we're very aware of — the travel time, the man hours."
The Boone County Sheriff's Department logs between 12,000 and 14,000 miles each year transporting patients around the state, Sgt. Mike Krohn said.
"We're there for whatever the courts and citizens need us to do, but certainly our time could be better spent in some of those other endeavors responding to citizens," Krohn said.