Reductions done differently at mental hospitals

Monday, September 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Plenty of time and money allowed one of two Oklahoma mental hospitals to have a smoother transition to smaller patient rolls.

Steve Norwood, director of Western State Hospital in Fort Supply, said his institution discharged 648 patients over a five-year period from 1993 to 1997.

By comparison, critics have said legislative action in 1999 forced Eastern State Hospital in Vinita to find alternatives settings for 146 non-criminal patients within a year from Jan. 1.

Eastern State was to reduce the number of patients to 40.

Eastern State patients were sent to community mental health centers, including Parkside in Tulsa. The shift resulted in overcrowding at Parkside.

A recent report by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services said patients at Parkside spent up to three days on a couch while others spent the night on chairs and benches.

Norwood reflected on Western State's downsizing amid questions about Eastern State's transition to 40 beds.

Western State serves about 21 counties in western Oklahoma for inpatient services and about nine for outpatient care.

"We decided to downsize internally and not as a result of a mandate," Norwood said. "We also did it in increments, gradually decreasing the number of hospital beds."

Western's transition called for $2.4 million to build a 28-bed inpatient unit funded by a bond vote, he said.

Officials planned for a year before moving any patients from Western State, Norwood said. The reduction occurred systematically in increments of 10 until the number of Western State patients was cut from 149 to 28.

"We shortened our length of stay from 30 days to 14 days,"

Norwood said. "We basically had the time to make changes on a yearly basis."

Norwood said a 1997 legislative act consolidated three area mental health facilities to form the current Western State Psychiatric Services.