KHI News Service

Liberal hospital closing psychiatric unit

Not enough money and difficulty finding a psychiatrist prompt unit's demise

By Dave Ranney | August 12, 2010

Southwest Medical Center officials have announced they will close the hospital’s 12-bed psychiatric unit.

“This has been very difficult for everybody here,” said Nancy Kletecka, director of public relations at the hospital. “We’re small enough that really we’re like one big family. So it’s been rough.”

The decision, Kletecka said, was driven by the unit losing money and difficulty in hiring a psychiatrist.

“We’ve been to trying to recruit a good, full-time psychiatrist for the past year and a half,” she said. “The only way we’ve been able to keep the unit open this long has been with contract (psychiatrists) who rotate in and out.”

Kletecka said the unit was expected to lose $500,000 this year.

The hospital, she said, is expected to lose $1.5 million.

“The psychiatric unit is included in the $1.5 million,” Kletecka said.

She attributed the hospital’s losses to the ever-increasing emphasis on outpatient rather than inpatient care and the downturn in the economy.

Hospital officials plan to lay off 28 workers, including about 13 from the psychiatric unit, which will be closed Oct. 1.

The 28 workers represent 6 percent of the hospital's workforce.

“There is a very real need for services provided by the psychiatric unit,” Kletecka said. “That’s what so upsetting about this. The need is there.”

Since the mid 1990s, many small and mid-size private hospitals have closed their psychiatric units, usually due to low reimbursement and difficulties in recruiting and retaining psychiatrists.

Coffeyville Regional Medical Center closed its 17-bed psychiatric unit last year.

“What’s happening in Liberal is a tragedy in the area of people having access to inpatient mental health treatment,” said Amy Campbell, executive director of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition. “This just guarantees that when the people in that area need these services, they’re going to go far, far from home to get them.”

News of the closing, she said, coincided with the three state hospitals for the mentally ill being consistently filled beyond capacity.

“This is all bad news,” said Walt Hill, executive director at the High Plains Mental Health Center in Hays.

“In our 20-county catchment area there is no inpatient treatment,” Hill said. “You have to go to Garden City, Salina, Hutchinson or Topeka.

Hill said he sympathized with the Liberal hospital’s troubles in finding a psychiatrist.

“It’s very challenging,” he said. “We’re in the midst of a recruiting drive now and I expect it’ll take us a year and half. It’s very difficult to find a psychiatrist who’s willing to live in rural Kansas.”