BAXTER - In an age when many mistaken attitudes about medicine have gone the way of the doctor's house call, mental illness continues to be a biological impairment that's misunderstood.
"There's still a stigma," Dick Slieter, administrator of the Community Behavioral Health Hospital in Baxter, said as he reflected on the hospital's first year.
The psychiatric hospital opened its doors to clients one year ago. It served 158 people in its first 11 months with expectations of serving 175 people in its first year.
Dick Slieter, administrator of the Community Behavioral Health Hospital in Baxter, reflected on the psychiatric hospital's first year. He estimates the facility has served 175 people in its first 12 months. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"We didn't used to talk about cancer," Slieter said. "We have to understand mental illness."
Slieter also was aware of the need to understand the apprehensions of residents who objected to establishment of the hospital in their neighborhood a year ago.
One Baxter neighbor who spoke against the placement of the hospital last year before the Baxter City council declined to comment on the hospital last week and asked that his name not be used in this news story.
A different neighbor, Robert Milloch, was initially opposed to the hospital being built in the neighborhood, but after serving on a community advisory committee he has changed his mind.
The state-operated psychiatric hospital in Baxter opened its doors to patients on Jan. 29, 2007. It's designed to help people who need acute psychiatric treatment. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"I felt that they could have located it in another area rather than a residential area," Milloch said. "However, after it's been going and we had a tour of the hospital and seeing how well it's secured out there I actually feel different about it and I do realize that we need that type of treatment in the area."
Admission in and out of the building is restricted. Security cameras are used and a 10-foot fence initially surrounded an outside patio.
That fence is now 12 feet tall after a patient climbed the old one in June and left the facility. The patient was returned to the hospital by police about 15 hours after he left the facility. The administrator said that patient was discharged about two to three weeks after the escape, showing signs of good health.
"We really work hard to earn the confidence and trust of the whole Brainerd-Baxter area," Slieter said.
Milloch said that with the exception of the one runaway, the hospital's operation has been smooth and it serves a worthwhile purpose.
"They're (the patients) no different than any of the rest of us other than their type of ailments and they have the right to be treated for their illness," Milloch said.
Slieter said that in addition to raising the height of the fence the staffing ratio of staff members to patients was altered to allow for increased security.
"We promised we wouldn't use the recreational area until it was fixed," Slieter recalled.
The hospital initiated a community advisory committee that meets once a month. It's a 10-member body made up of neighbors and representatives from Brainerd and Crow Wing County.
Recalling the staff's brainstorming sessions that preceded the hospital's opening, Slieter said the hospital's core values were identified as integrity, respect, person-centered service and safety.
The hospital has 40 employees with a full-time equivalency of 34. Staff members include a full-time psychiatrist, a full-time psychiatric clinical nurse specialist, primary care nurse practitioner and a pool of psychologists its shares with other facilities.
The average stay at the Baxter hospital is 19 days with the range of the average stay varying from one day to 100 days. The occupancy average for the 16-bed hospital is 12 patients, a fact Slieter attributes to the fact that the hospital is relatively new. He predicts that figure will increase to 14 patients this year.
About 55 percent of the patients are male and the average age is 40. Half of them, Slieter said, are from Crow Wing County and the surrounding counties. All of the patients, Slieter said, are people who need acute psychiatric treatment.
"People should be served in the least restrictive setting possible," Slieter said. "People get better with loved ones in their home," he said. "I embrace that vision fully."
The Assertive Community Treatment teams are made up of psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers and other health professionals, Slieter said. These teams sometimes conduct home visits and attempt to help patients with mental illness from relapsing.
Slieter, 59, said the Community Behavioral Health Hospital's emphasis on less hospitalization is in sync with trends in the medical/surgical communities where longer stays for patients in the hospital have been replaced by earlier hospital departures for home and visits from health care professionals.
"We caught on slower in the mental health field because it's very complex," he said.
Both Slieter and Chuck Fields, a licensed psychologist who works at state facilities, said they prefer that atmosphere at the community-based facilities. Fields said the physical environment is much brighter and home-like.
"I've not met a client who didn't like it better," Fields said.
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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