The head of the Department of Mental Health’s Behavioral Health Division is optimistic about the Governor’s proposal that could accelerate the replacement of the only maximum security psychiatric unit in the state.
Mark Stringer has said it has been his “dream” to see that facility, with buildings dating to 1937, be replaced with something more modern that would be safer for patients and staff.
He says Fulton is the last stop for the patients thought to pose the greatest potential for harming themselves or others.
“Having worked in a psychiatric hospital years ago where a very senior nurse was killed, and the patient that killed her was sent to Fulton State Hospital and remains here today.”
Stringer says the hospital is one of the most dangerous places to work in the state, and he attributes that to its design. Long corridors mean longer times for staff to arrive when problems occur and create echoes that can agitate patients, while the design also leaves poor lines of sight for staff to see what’s happening around them.
Replacing it is the best option to improve safety, says Stringer, and he says that’s been proven elsewhere, “In other parts of the state where we have either built new psychiatric hospitals or modernized, we’ve seen just that. We’ve seen it here in Missouri, we’ve also seen it in other states where they’ve built new psychiatric hospitals … we see both patient injuries go down and staff injuries go down.”
No plan yet, but a general concept
A plan for the new hospital has not been created. One had been put together years ago and state mental health officials used it as a baseline in coming up with an estimate of $211-million dollars for construction of a new facility, accounting for changes that have been made to lower the number of patients at the Fulton hospital since that plan had been drawn up.
A supplemental budget bill signed by the Governor included $13-million dollars to pay for a new design. Governor Nixon had withheld all but $2-million of that, but announced last week he has released the remaining $11-million so that planning can proceed.
Stringer says the basic idea for the new facility is known.
“What we would do is we would tear down a large section of the old hospital,” Stringer explains, “while the patients remain at the Biggs maximum security facility … and then begin the process of constructing a new facility. When that facility is complete then we’ll move the patients from Biggs over into the new facility and then we’ll begin to demolish the Biggs facility.”
Stringer understands the whole project would take between 5 and 6 years from design to completion.
The Governor’s plan must go through the legislative process. At least one state lawmaker, Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) opposes it, saying the use of appropriation bonds is unconstitutional because they don’t require voter approval.
Nixon argues they have been used for other state projects in the past, and Stringer says that’s a valid argument.
“There’s certainly historic precedent for it, and so I believe it’s entirely appropriate.”