Hospital fills mental health needs

By Phil Anderson, Topeka Capital-Journal, February 21, 2011

Taylor Porter and Julie DeJean in front of Stormont-Vail West

Taylor Porter, medical director of behavioral health services
at Stormont-Vail West, and Julie DeJean, is administrative
director for behavioral health services, say the facility has
helped fill a mental-health care void in Topeka for the past
decade. (Photo by Thad Allton, Topeka Capital-Journal)

For the past decade, Stormont-Vail West has helped fill a mental health care vacuum created by the closures of Topeka State Hospital in 1997 and Menninger in 2003 — two psychiatric facilities that had been major players in the capital city for decades.

As it celebrates its 10th anniversary Tuesday, Stormont-Vail West, 3707 S.W. 6th, is doing so with a wary eye, facing potentially unprecedented challenges brought about by the state's drastic funding cuts for community-based mental health services.

"When I think about the future of psychiatric care, I'm worried because of the budget cuts to community mental health centers," said Julie DeJean, administrative director for behavioral health services at Stormont-Vail HealthCare. "We could end up taking care of patients who don't have services anywhere else."

DeJean said throughout its history, Stormont-Vail West has served people with mental illness who didn't have insurance or money to pay for their services. However, under state budget cuts, some community mental health centers in Kansas may need to close, she said. The fallout could affect Stormont-Vail West in the form of additional patients.

As a community hospital, DeJean said, Stormont-Vail West doesn't turn anyone away. While far from a money-maker, she said, the facility has managed to pay its own bills and remains a viable part of services offered by Stormont-Vail HealthCare to the Topeka community.

DeJean said she is in "constant contact" with community mental health providers throughout the Topeka area, working on ways to coordinate services and ensure patients' needs are being met.

Stormont-Vail West traces its history to the announcement that Menninger was planning to leave Topeka.

Stormont-Vail HealthCare officials said a need existed for improved access to behavioral health services in northeast Kansas.

To help fill this need, Stormont-Vail purchased the facility at S.W. 6th and Gage that formerly was home to Parkview Hospital, a mental health facility that opened in 1990 and closed 2000.

Since opening its doors Feb. 22, 2001, Stormont-Vail West has cared for 21,182 inpatients and has had an estimated 50,000 outpatient visits.

In addition, the child and adolescent unit has cared for 8,426 inpatients since it opened May 21, 2001.

Services offered at Stormont-Vail West include a child and adolescent inpatient program, an adult inpatient program, a substance abuse program, an adult and senior partial hospital program and outpatient services.

The child and adolescent inpatient program serves patients from 4 to 17 years of age and focuses on short-term crisis stabilization using therapeutic interventions, groups and activities. The average length of stay is three to five days.

The adult inpatient program focuses on acute, short-term crisis stabilization using psycho-educational groups and activities, with an average length of stay of three to four days. The program serves adults 18 years of age and older on a voluntary basis only.

The substance abuse program treats adults suffering from substance abuse, and if needed, addresses contributing issues such as depression, anxiety or other mental-health concerns.

The adult and senior partial hospital program offers intensive outpatient intervention in a structured, supportive day setting. Patients learn the skills to transition back to healthier functioning in this short-term program.

Stormont-Vail West has about 60 beds — 40 for adults and 20 for children. Older adults are served in the 16-bed senior diagnostic center at Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center's main campus, 1500 S.W. 10th.

DeJean said Stormont-Vail West averages more than 50 percent occupancy at its inpatient facility, with about 20 adults and 12 children and adolescents staying there on a given day.

The mental health care facility has four full-time psychiatrists, two of whom specialize in children and adolescents and two who treat only adults. All nurses on staff are trained to treat psychiatric patients. Additionally, Stormont-Vail West has four licensed clinical social workers on staff.

The Stormont-Vail staff has learned to operate within the limitations that come from having about 40 percent of no-pay patients, a shortage of community resources and problems associated with patients obtaining and staying on needed psychiatric medications.

Stormont-Vail West is seeing a larger number of people seeking care on an outpatient basis, DeJean said, and also is serving Army soldiers from Fort Riley who can't receive psychiatric care at VA hospitals because their beds are full.

Stormont-Vail West also takes on patients who come out of state-run psychiatric facilities in Osawatomie, Larned or Kansas City, Kan. However, DeJean said, Stormont-Vail West doesn't receive patients on an involuntary basis.

Ty Porter, a Menninger-trained psychiatrist who is medical director of behavioral health services at Stormont-Vail, said patients come to Stormont-Vail West from across the state, particularly in areas west of Topeka.

Several other mental health facilities, including in Lawrence, Manhattan and Salina, have closed, making Stormont-Vail West the nearest location for some patients.

Porter said Stormont-Vail West has weathered a large number of changes and challenges in its brief 10-year history, but with the support of top administrators has always found a way to stay afloat.

"Ten years is a short time in the life of a hospital," Porter said. "But the environment for psychiatric care is always changing — and not always for the best."

Porter said the Topeka community continues to see the fallout from the closure of Topeka State Hospital and Menninger.

In particular, the closure of Topeka State has had a dramatic impact because patients were to be transferred to community-based mental health programs that were to provide needed services.

Yet, Porter said, the state has "chipped" away at the budget over the years, to the point that funding for some services is nearly nonexistent in some cases.

As a result, facilities like Stormont-Vail West have had to be creative in order to survive. He said the hospital goes with outpatient care when possible, and also strives to use as many free samples and coupons for medications as possible.

Despite the challenges, Porter said, Stormont-Vail West is a "great" place to work and has many dedicated doctors, nurses and staff members.

He said between 85 percent and 90 percent of patients state in surveys they had a "positive" experience at Stormont-Vail West. While happy with that number, he said, the staff also is working on ways to improve it.

As Stormont-Vail looks to the future, it has plans to develop an outpatient memory center that would cater to older adults, develop more of its outpatient services and work to coordinate care for soldiers based at Fort Riley.

Phil Anderson can be reached at (785) 295-1195 or phil.anderson@cjonline.com.

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