The State Mental Health Director insists the future for the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center is bright, though its mission will change significantly.

No longer slated to be closed, the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center in St. Louis will get a new, $18 million facility. The center will focus on severely mentally disturbed patients; 50 to 70 of them, rather than the 300 it treated at its peak population.

State Mental Health Director Keith Schafer understands the parents of Bellefontaine patients aren’t pleased.

"It will be very difficult to convince those parents, to make the parents feel good about the fact that we’re dealing with a downsized facility," Schafer tells the Missourinet.

Schafer says the state took a necessary step March 1st when it eliminated 125 positions.

"We had to reduce our workforce to a level that’s comparable to every other hab center in the state," Schafer says, "That was traumatic, but it’s done."

The Bellefontaine Center is aging. Schafer says it needs modern facilities.

"This, I think, will be a turning point for Bellefontaine for the future," says Schafer.

Schafer convinced Governor Blunt not to move ahead with his plans to close Bellefontaine. Blunt had threatened Bellefontaine’s closure after numerous reports of abuse and neglect of patients at the center became public. Instead, many patients have been moved to private facilities. Patients who need intense care and can’t live in the community will remain at Bellefontaine.

Download/listen Brent Martin reports (:60 MP3)