Closure of Fergus Falls inpatient behavioral health unit faces local opposition

Emergency Room
An emergency room at Lake Region Healthcare in Fergus Falls, where its inpatient behavioral health unit is set to close.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News 2009

Tensions ran high during a Minnesota Department of Health public hearing Wednesday over Lake Region Healthcare’s decision to close the Bridgeway inpatient behavioral health unit in Fergus Falls.

LRH leaders cited staffing shortages, rising costs and a decline in patient numbers for ending the service. The hospital will continue to provide outpatient mental health services but now plans to partner with other inpatient units in the region, including one in Fargo, N.D.

LRH CEO Ken Mattson said he understands the public’s concern about the closure.

“We respect, and we acknowledge these very real emotions, these genuine feelings, and we empathize with the human elements surrounding this change,” Mattson said during his opening remarks.

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“Please trust us that the decision was not taken lightly. And while the outcome was not what everybody would have wanted, our community-based, values-based health care organization needed to make the tough call to close the unit.”

During the public comment portion Ethan Johnson, a teacher at the alternative school in Fergus Falls, said Bridgeway has been “a literal lifesaver” for some of his students.

“I am distressed that it’s going away. We talk about students falling through the cracks, and we just keep removing the nets that should be catching them,” he said. “And we always have good reasons for them doing it, but it doesn’t matter, you know, when things go poorly.”

Steve McElmurry, a nurse in the unit, said Lake Region Healthcare should have gathered more input from staff before the final decision.

“It doesn’t seem to me that there was a lot of collaboration,” McElmurry said. “Even though it’s one of the [hospital’s] values, [it] didn’t seem to be there’s a lot of collaboration with any of the people on the ground, closest to the ground. So, us.”

Other closure opponents said patient numbers are down because intake protocols have changed.  Bridgeway’s inpatient services will close March 15.