Fargo-based Prairie St. John's Hospital wants to build a 144 bed psychiatric specialty care hospital in Woodbury.
One hurdle is Minnesota's moratorium on new hospital beds. Lawmakers can give Prairie St. John's an exemption, but first, they asked the Minnesota Department of Health to review the project to see if it's in the public interest. The Department determined that it's not.
Director of the Department's Health Economics Program, Julie Sonier, told the House Mental Health Division committee that the proposal is three to four times bigger than the area needs. She also said that Twin Cities hospitals are providing more mental health care than needed by the region's residents.
"This suggests that to the degree there is a problem of insufficient hospital capacity, it is not necessarily a problem of insufficient capacity in the Twin Cities, but perhaps in other regions of the state," Sonier said.
In addition, the Health Department found that the new hospital would compete with other hospitals for scarce mental health workers and that the facility wouldn't be able to adequately care for some patients who have other complicating medical conditions besides their mental health diagnosis.
The Department's findings raised the ire of Prairie St. John's officials. Special projects liaison John Ryan said the Health Department's calculation of hospital bed need is woefully incomplete.
"That documented need omits all of the patients who sit and wait in emergency rooms and then decide to go home," Ryan said. "It omits all the people who've experienced the shortcomings in our mental health system once or twice or three times already and decide to never even to show up at an emergency room."
Dr. Shalene Kennedy, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Prairie St. John's Clinic in the Twin Cities, said the psychiatric hospital bed shortage is so severe that she gets calls every day from frantic families who are desperate for her to do something to help them.
"Anyone who states that we do not need more psychiatric beds obviously does not personally bear the burden of this," Kennedy said. "I know I am burnt out. I know my nurse is too."
But several other Twin Cities hospitals spoke against the proposal. Sara Criger, CEO of St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul, said the bigger problem is a lack of outpatient treatment options. She said far too many psychiatric patients have nowhere to go once their situation has been stabilized in the hospital, so they sit in those beds causing a bottleneck in the system.
"An additional hospital in the community would only serve to add to the most expensive type of care and we don't believe this is the right kind of care," Criger said.
Rep. Marsha Swails, DFL-Woodbury, is carrying the bill in the House. She said she was disappointed to see so much resistance to the proposal from Twin Cities hospitals.
"What has been the response of the inpatient mental health providers to the growing need for beds?" Swails said. "They've cut the number of beds available to patients. They've invested instead in cancer centers, cardiac centers and other high-profit operations."
Several members of the committee expressed frustration at not having more time to consider the arguments for and against the proposal.
The shorter session means they have less time to move bills through committee process. In the end, the committee approved the hospital exemption proposal on a voice vote and sent it on to the Health and Human Services policy committee.