PCH gets go-ahead to turn St. Luke's into psychiatric care pavilion
By TAMMIE TOLER
PRINCETON — St. Luke’s Hospital should open its doors for patients again within the next year.
In the wake of an agonizing decision to close the acute care hospital, the task of filing a certificate of need application and months of waiting on word, Princeton Community Hospital CEO Wayne Griffith confirmed Thursday that PCH received the West Virginia Health Care Authority’s seal of approval to re-open St. Luke’s as a psychiatric care pavilion.
HCA Chairwoman Sonia Chambers handed him the CON last week at the end of a meeting in Charleston, and Griffith said he could barely contain the excitement.
“Obviously, I was very thrilled. I think the Health Care Authority had a very difficult task in reviewing the application, but ultimately realized the opportunity we have here,” he said. “Now, we start the hard work. We have to make the facility operational, put the health care professionals in place and open the doors.”
PCH initially requested licensure for 103 inpatient beds on the Bluefield campus, but the CON documentation reduced that allowance slightly. The facility will be allowed a total of 95 inpatient beds, with 20 of those allocated for adolescent behavioral health patients. HCA approved a capital expenditure of approximately $5.57 million.
That’s an amount Griffith said he expected to spend gradually and using as much in-house expertise and labor as possible.
“That dollar amount is tied to renovations over a period of time,” he explained.
Renovations include the creation of additional inpatient areas, structures to completely separate the adult and adolescent care quarters and outpatient service areas, as well as general housekeeping items. One of the biggest tasks will be installing plaster ceilings to replace the tiles currently over St. Luke’s.
“Basically, it’s what’s known in the industry as psych-proofing the facility,” Griffith said. “You have to make sure it’s a safe environment for everyone involved.”
Along with the PCH engineering and maintenance crews, he said the hospital has tremendous assets in Travis Lilly and John Shay, longtime members of the St. Luke’s engineering team. They have approximately 15 years invested in the hospital, and they’ve remained on the job since St. Luke’s closed last spring. Griffith said they know “every nook and cranny” in the building and are expected to play a huge role in the transformation.
Once the renovations are complete for the adult psychiatric care opportunities, Griffith said the first services available will closely mirror the behavioral options already in existence at PCH. In fact, that unit will transfer to the Bluefield hospital, where a geriatric psychiatric unit will also exist.
The geriatric specialization will cater to elderly patients, many of whom face short-term psychological complications as a result of changes in medication or life situations. These patients usually spend a very short time as inpatients, while they adjust to the alterations in treatment, Griffith said.
A definite timeline is still under review by PCH and Diamond Healthcare Corporation, the company that will manage day-to-day operations at the psychiatric pavilion. But, Griffith said he hoped the adult and geriatric treatment facilities will open in spring 2009.
The adolescent inpatient center will take longer to develop and implement. It will also require greater planning, due to the average patient length of stay and the specialization required of caregivers.
“A lot of those kids are being sent out of state, because there simply aren’t beds in the state,” Griffith said.
Teens who require treatment often require long-term care. Griffith estimated the average length of stay for an adolescent in need of inpatient therapy would be approximately 120 days, but that can extend to 300 or even 400 days. Those statistics, paired with the intensity of treatment necessary, will force PCH to be selective in the adolescent diagnoses it can accept.
“We will be taking children with limited numbers of diagnoses,” he said.
Along the way, Griffith said the pavilion will provide structured outpatient services, expanding the mental health care available in southern West Virginia.
PCH Vice President of Patient Care Joetta Dotson made much of her career at St. Luke’s, and she welcomed news that the hospital would reopen with a warm smile and obvious enthusiasm for the opportunities.
“It’s just such a beautiful facility, and this is such a much-needed service,” she said. “I just think we will be able to give the patients good-quality care in a psychiatric nursing hospital.”
In addition, Griffith said the shift will be good for the community, initially resulting in up to 103 jobs and increasing to 150 by the end of the transformation.
“That’s huge for this area,” he said, anticipating a pay level higher than most acute-care hospitals due to the specialization required for the care that will be made available.
Still basking in the CON approval Thursday, Griffith thanked the PCH Board of Directors, which made the difficult decision to close St. Luke’s in order to find a better alternative for the facility and the region.
“The Board of Directors of PCH really has supported this project from the very beginning. They always envisioned this as one of the opportunities [for St. Luke’s],” he said.
He also expressed appreciation for Gov. Joe Manchin’s office and the administrative support, as well as the backing from the City of Princeton and a variety of local entities that stood behind the project.
“We intend to make it a first-class operation,” he said.
He expected renovation work to start soon and the construction project to move fast.
“We’re starting from scratch. We have a nice facility. It’s nestled into the hillside, so it’ll be peaceful here, and we just think this is a wonderful opportunity,” Griffith said.
And, although PCH ultimately did not decide to turn St. Luke’s exclusively into a veterans’ care center, Griffith said care for military men and women remains a priority for the hospital.
“We still hope we can get a veterans’ clinic at the facility. We haven’t given up on that,” he said, suggesting St. Luke’s physician office areas could be a prime location for an outpatient clinic designed to serve veterans.