Obici to add psychiatric beds

Published 9:43 pm Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sentara Obici Hospital will double the number of beds available to treat psychiatric patients by July after the recent approval of the project by the state.

The hospital currently has 10 acute inpatient psychiatric beds. It will convert 10 private rooms to semi-private rooms, resulting in 20 beds.

“We have for a long time begun to evaluate how can we expand psychiatric care in our community,” said Phyllis Stoneburner, vice president for patient care services at the hospital.

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She said psychiatric care was one of the main priorities of community members who were surveyed a few years ago.

The locked psychiatric unit at Obici is available to patients who have been admitted either voluntarily or through the court system. The 10 rooms in the unit will be converted to semi-private rooms, which was the original intention when the hospital was built, Stoneburner said.

“I think that’s going to be well received by many of our patients,” she said.

The current 10 beds are full most of the time, Stoneburner said.

Other psychiatric facilities are available in the region, including at other Sentara hospitals, Stoneburner said. But patients often prefer to be closer to home.

“Often, you would like to be in your own neighborhood, where you can be supported by your family,” she said.

The availability of beds for psychiatric care has been a top issue in Virginia due to a number of high-profile incidents in the last 10 years, including one that involved a state senator. Creigh Deeds was stabbed by his 24-year-old son at their home in Bath County in November 2013 after a judge had issued an involuntary commitment order for the son, but no bed could be found for him. The son, Austin Deeds, killed himself on the same day.

Stoneburner said the increased emphasis on mental health is positive.

“The great thing about our country is people are now speaking out about depression and psychiatric illnesses in ways that they never have before,” she said. “Now we’ve become much more cognizant of the importance of your psychiatric health and the importance of being treated and seen and supported in this illness.”

The state Department of Health informed Sentara the Certificate of Public Need had been approved in a letter dated Jan. 28. The Certificate of Public Need program is a state process that aims to contain health care costs by analyzing need, accessibility, economic impact and financial feasibility of projects before they are approved.

State Health Commissioner Marissa Levine wrote that the applicant substantiated a need for the project based on existing and projected demand and that there is “broad support” for the project from area Community Services Boards and law enforcement agencies. No opposition to the project was submitted in writing or at a public hearing, Levine wrote.

The estimated cost of the project is $61,000, which will cover beds and closet areas, as well as rearranging sitting areas. It is expected to become operational in July.

Stoneburner said the hospital has implemented other mental health services, including a depression screening booth at public events, and it also continues to evaluate unmet needs in a variety of areas.