The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

October 16, 2013

State hospital sells its building request to visiting senators

Goal: Reduce patients' stay at Security Hospital

Atop the hill in the Regional Treatment Center, the head nurse at the Minnesota Security Hospital turns to an emotional appeal for the hospital’s big request.

“This is not something they acquired,” Nursing Director Colleen Ryan says of the hospital’s 375 or so patients. “This is a physical illness.”

The Senate Capital Investment Committee was ending its tour of this state-run hospital for the mentally ill and dangerous. At the Regional Treatment Center, set on 400 acres on the south side of St. Peter, deer seem unafraid of visitors and turkeys roam the grounds. The campus includes the hospital and, below the hill and mostly separated by razor wire, the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

The legislators stopped by one of the hospital’s living units (the residents were out to lunch) and heard about how the $56.3 million request would change this room, and others like it.

Though the glass-covered security room was clearly designed to look out on the living space, there are areas a guard can’t see, including the bedroom doors. The group also heard about how the appropriation would help the state accomplish its long term goal of putting the entire security hospital program atop the hill and leave the valley to the Sex Offender Program.

But the nursing director put her final appeal in terms of what the money would do for the security hospital’s patients. Mostly, it will help them leave. Their average length of stay is eight years, and reducing that number is a major goal.

To that end, the renovations would create 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.

That’s where Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, thinks the emphasis should be: “The needs of the patients come first.”

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