The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 20, 2013

State hospital capital must be approved

WHY IT MATTERS: The Minnesota Security Hospital needs upgrading and that's a statewide concern

The Mankato Free Press

---- — There will be the normal thrusting of tin cups to the state Legislature this coming year as lawmakers consider which projects will get state bonding.

It’s usually a crowded field when considering lobbyists outnumber legislators six to one. But one project that should be high on the list doesn’t have an army of door knockers.

The Minnesota Security Hospital (MSH) in St. Peter is requesting $56.3 million both for better security and to help patients recover more quickly.

According to the request filed with the state, the design of the hospital presents problems. “The existing layout of the patient units provides poor sightlines for unit staff to monitor patient activity in these pod areas. If patient behavior requires intervention by staff to protect a patient from self-injury, or to protect other patients in the living pod from harm/injury, this poor unit configuration often results in patient and/or staff injury as staff attempt to relocate the patient from the living pod up or down these narrow stairs.”

In fact, such injuries to patients and staff have been well documented. In 2012, security hospital staff endured 93 injuries and 434 assaults. Records from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show high numbers of injuries going back several years. Patients also have been injured in varying degrees because of poor designs.

It also would help separate the entire security hospital program from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP). “Both programs currently have individuals which are housed on the lower campus who have reached the point in their treatment where they have earned the privilege of campus liberty (the ability to move about campus with limited control),” the proposal states.

“While MSH patients are considered vulnerable adults, MSOP clients are not. Allowing individuals from both programs to circulate on the lower campus is not good policy and presents safety risks. The Department believes it is time to make a concerted effort to separate the two populations. Moving MSH programs to new facilities on the upper campus will address this issue and physically separate these very different populations in the future. “

Above all, the appeal is to help the patients leave. Right now the average length of stay is eight years and reducing that time is a major goal.

Achieving that goal means two, 20-bed housing units for the sickest patients, to help both them and other patients recover more quickly. The request also includes money to add social, recreational and vocational amenities.

Then there’s the need for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program which is facing an ever-increasing population. It is the only place in the nation where offenders live in secure and group home-type facilities on the same campus.

The Department of Human Services is seeking $7.4 million to add about 60 beds to the program.

The proposal states that MSOP “will be out of beds by the spring of 2015. The type of space that MSOP needs at St. Peter (the location which MSOP uses for individuals that are in the later stages of treatment), is much different than the space that it uses for the early stages if treatment at Moose Lake. The buildings that MSH will vacate on the lower campus once new facilities are developed on upper campus for MSH programs, will, after basic remodeling and/or infrastructure upgrades, readily meet MSOP’s later stage treatment program requirements.

“Smaller living units promote a much more therapeutic environment for those individuals that are working hard to reach the reintegration phase of their treatment program. In addition, since all of MSOP’s St. Peter programs currently operate on the lower campus, it makes sense to plan/direct future MSOP expansion at St. Peter to the lower campus.”

The issues in St. Peter are not local in nature. This is a statewide concern and one in which the lawmakers are the caretakers.