Hospital to close mental health unit

Published 5:05 am Saturday, February 9, 2008

By By PETER WILLIAMS,Managing Editor
Beaufort County Hospital will close the inpatient mental health unit on the fourth floor of the hospital and use those nurses to open a new Psychiatric Crisis and Detoxification Center next door, the hospital announced Friday.
The move was made in part because the inpatient facility lost $1 million last year and serves mostly patients who aren’t from Beaufort County. Another major factor was the hospital couldn’t find enough trained nurses to operate both units, sources say.
The hospital began operating an inpatient unit in 1997 when mental health services were being coordinated through Tideland Mental Health Services. Since that time, the amount of federal money the hospital receives for mental health care has been drastically reduced, Bedsole said.
Bedsole said there are no plans to use the space on the fourth floor. In fact he hopes one day BCH will be able to offer inpatient services again.
The 14-bed inpatient facility is full about half the time, according to Dr. Thomas Penders, chairman of psychiatry at BCH. After it closes, the nearest comparable facility will be at Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville. Pitt operates 52 beds, but quite often is full, a spokesman there said.
Penders believes more local people will be served through the new crisis center.
For more than three years, the county hasn’t had the middle level of service — the crisis/detox center.
Between 33 and 40 percent of the patients who would have been seen at the inpatient unit will likely be seen at the crisis center,” Penders said. Cases that involve involuntary commitment will have to go elsewhere.
The nine-bed crisis center will offer 24-hour, seven-day-a-week services to people in immediate crisis due to substance abuse, alcohol abuse or other mental-health conditions. It will be staffed by specially trained psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, and social workers.
The hospital tried to recruit nurses to staff both the crisis clinic and the inpatient facility, Bedsole said. In the end, it couldn’t find the manpower so it decided to close the unit on the fourth floor and move the nurses to the new crisis center.
The crisis center should open by May 1 in space formally occupied by Tideland next to the hospital.
The center will provide services for people who may be experiencing effects from alcohol or drug withdrawal as well as those in need of immediate mental health or psychiatric stability, or a combination of both. The service will provide an alternative to hospitalization for adults who have a mental illness or substance-abuse disorder.
Current plans call for the inpatient unit to close April 15.
The Washington-based hospital is licensed for 142 beds, but had allocated 22 of those to the inpatient behavioral health unit. Of those, there was space for 18 on the fourth floor but only enough staffing to accept 14 patients.