The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

April 16, 2014

Case made for Security Hospital project

$56 million project said to provide a safer campus

ST. PETER — The Minnesota Security Hospital is a dangerous place by its nature, but its narrow hallways, poor sight lines and mixing of the sickest and newest patients makes it more dangerous than it should be.

Lucinda Jesson, the state’s human services commissioner, visited the Regional Treatment Center in St. Peter Wednesday to talk with staff and reporters about the importance of securing state money for a $56 million expansion.

“A new building won’t solve all of our problems, but it solves some of them,” she said.

The politics of whether the hospital will get its entire request — the recent state House proposal was $15 million short — are difficult to predict. Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato, called it the state's most important bonding project.

Politics aside, the real-world problems faced by the hospital’s 300 or so guards play out here every day. Assaults reached their highest rates ever in 2012 and declined a bit last year, though specific figures were not available.

While it’s difficult to say for sure, the renovations might even have prevented the January killing of a patient, the first in 30 years, said Carol Olson, the state’s executive director for forensic services.

The project would add two six-bed crisis units and a pair of two-bed admissions units. The suspect in the case, Darnell D. Whitefeather, had recently assaulted another patient, and could have been separated in the new crisis units, Olson suggested.

“I believe it would have made a difference,” she said.

Security staff at the hospital have been saying for years that the mixing of new patients and those in the worst crisis has been a problem, said John Collins, a union steward.

“Newcomers feel like they need to keep their head on a pivot,” he said. “ … It gives them the impression they’ve been thrown into a prison.”

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