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ER At Area's Public Psychiatric Hospital Goes Private

Kansas City, MO – Emergency services at the area's public psychiatric hospital, Western Missouri Mental Health center, are going private. The Department of Mental Health says putting care in the hands of a comprehensive hospital ensures people will receive more integrated medical and psychiatric care. But as KCUR's Elana Gordon reports, some mental health advocates are concerned.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health has announced that Truman Medical Center - the area's private non-profit hospital - will be taking over emergency room services and about half of the psychiatric hospital beds at the region's public mental health center. The department says they no longer have the $8 million dollars needed to run the facility due to state budget cuts.

Guyla Stidmon is with the local chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). She says the region's already suffering from an inadequate amount mental health services, in part due to a continual decline in support from the state. She says Missouri's most recent move to privatize those safety net services further ignores the crisis.

STIDMON: It will be completely the same number of beds that we currently operate. There still are not going to be enough beds. And the money that is going to be made from this initiative could possibly come to this area and could possibly not come to this area.

Stidmon also says the move could jeopardize services for the most difficult to treat patients. She says that's because public hospitals must see people regardless of the severity of their mental illness or their ability to pay.

The Department of Mental Health says Truman's agreed to take on that public responsibility. They also says shifting such services over to Truman ensures the region will continue to have access to needed emergency psychiatric care, despite a difficult budget environment.

Truman's already been operating a 25-bed wing at the center since 2006 because the state couldn't maintain the needed staffing levels. The Department of Mental Health recently announced it's transferring over the public psychiatric hospital in Columbia, Missouri to the area's University Hospital for similar reasons.

Funding for health care coverage on KCUR has been provided by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

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