BETHANY — Deaconess Hospital plans to close a Bethany medical facility that provides almost 60 inpatient adult psychiatric beds, further straining the regional medical care system for those with severe mental illness.
Bethany Hospital CEO Cathryn Hibbs said in a news release that closing Deaconess at Bethany in February was a difficult decision to make.
“We are committed to providing the most needed, quality care,” she said.
“These are challenging times for hospitals, and we all must carefully consider how we apply our resources. The decision to close Deaconess at Bethany was difficult, but we are focused on providing the services and therapies that benefit the largest number of patients in our community.”
Deaconess at Bethany provides “a small percentage of the overall inpatient psychiatric services available in the community,” according to the hospital. The average census for short-term behavioral health services is 25 patients, even though the campus has 57 beds available, according to the hospital.
The closure includes the loss of almost 60 inpatient adult psychiatric beds, which will affect about 70 employees, according to a letter the hospital's CEO wrote to the hospital's board and staff.
Kai Gerkey, a spokesman for Oklahoma City-based Deaconess Hospital, said he was unable to comment about what would happen to these employees.
Meanwhile, mental health and law enforcement officials say the closure will further pressure Oklahoma's mental health system.
A majority of people in Oklahoma who need mental health treatment do not receive it.
The state ranks among the top 10 states of adults struggling with mental illness.
Terri White, the state's mental health commissioner, said less psychiatric care options mean more problems.
“The department is very concerned about loss of any psychiatric beds, particularly this number of beds, given that we already have an issue where law enforcement is driving hundreds of miles trying to find someone a psychiatric bed,” White said. “The system is already overloaded.”
Deaconess, which ends its inpatient psychiatric services Feb. 10, was one of few hospitals in Oklahoma City that provided these types of services.
OU Medical Center closed its psychiatric unit in 2010. The hospital had 12 adult beds.
Meanwhile, St. Anthony Hospital has 87 adult beds.
Deaconess cited a decline in reimbursements and demand for inpatient hospital care as reasons to close its Bethany location.
“In this environment, all hospitals are considering how best to apply their resources to meet the greatest community need and control costs,” Hibbs wrote in a letter to board members and hospital staff.
Deaconess moved into the hospital at 7600 NW 23 in Bethany about 12 years ago.
Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said he urged Deaconess to rethink closing its psych unit, which he said was a “horrible decision.”
“I know there's a bottom line for their shareholders,” Whetsel said. “But I'm more concerned about the bottom line for law enforcement, the safety of our community and the safety of those who have mental health issues.”
Whetsel said for some people with mental illness, the longer they go without their medications and treatments, the more likely they will be to commit more serious offenses.
Then, the jail becomes a warehouse for people with mental health issues who have acted out because they either didn't get their medication or they couldn't receive treatment.
“We have a huge demand. On any given day, we provide psychotropic medications to between 350 and 400 inmates,” he said. “Literally, the Oklahoma County jail has become the largest mental health facility in the state of Oklahoma, and a lot of that is because these private facilities are closing beds.”