Missouri mental health hospital crumbling

FULTON, Mo. (AP) — Lawmakers from both parties agree that Missouri’s state hospital for the most severely ill and dangerous mental health patients is in dire need of repair, but it remains unclear just how to come up with the more than $200 million to replace the crumbling Fulton State Hospital.

The facility is Missouri’s only maximum security psychiatric hospital. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1bOHrU3 ) reports that some of the buildings on the 95-acre site are completely abandoned. Others are in such bad shape they raise safety concerns for patients and staff.

Stairways in the brick buildings are eroding. A fire tower has to be regularly caulked to keep it from toppling. Patients lack privacy because of the outdated design. The 30-building hospital has one kitchen.

Republican state Sen. David Pearce of Warrensburg heads an interim Senate committee reviewing state building repair needs. He says many of the state’s more than 6,000 buildings need fixing but dollars are scarce.

“It’s a daunting task,” Pearce said.

But Rep. Jeanie Riddle, a Republican whose district includes Fulton, said the hospital concerns must be addressed.

“This is an issue that Missouri cannot keep putting on the back burner,” Riddle said. “We have to do something about this.”

Pearce’s committee will file a report on the state’s capital improvement needs in December. The committee recently toured the Fulton hospital and other sites identified as priorities.

“I believe there’s a prevailing logic that the Fulton hospital is one of our most pressing needs,” Pearce said.

The hospital has 350 patients, which is close to capacity. Nearly all were sent there by courts, jails or prisons after being deemed mentally ill. The few others have behaviors that make treatment impossible at less secure facilities.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health has proposed a new 300-bed, high-security facility. An outdated estimate put the price tag at about $211 million, possibly higher now.

The House held hearings earlier this year on a $1.2 billion bonding proposal that would have included funding for the Fulton hospital. The plan ultimately was dropped after failing to gain momentum in the Senate, though lawmakers say they plan to come back to the proposal when they return to the Capitol in January.

Some conservative lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, oppose recent bonding proposals, seeing them as adding to the state’s debt. Any bond measure requires approval in the House and Senate, plus a statewide vote.

The Legislature allocated $13 million for the beginning design stages, but Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has withheld the money out of budget concerns. It could be released later in the fiscal year.

Private funding is possible, though it is not unclear where the money would come from.

Fulton State Hospital chief operating officer Marty Martin-Forman knows it will be years before any major changes happen at the facility. She knows that funding is tight.

“It’s a long way away,” Martin-Forman said.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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