St. Patrick Hospital advanced Missoula County's jail-diversion conversation Thursday, revealing plans to build a new mental health center that would add 36 new psychiatric inpatient beds locally.
Peter Snyder, the regional director of psychiatric services for St. Patrick Hospital, started the "formal discussion" about the hospital's role in jail diversion and the state mental hospital diversion Thursday morning at a county administrative meeting.
He said the plans aren't official yet, but the hospital is planning to submit a proposal to the Providence Health System in August.
Missoula County recently applied for and received a Pay for Success grant and is seeking another planning grant from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services for a new crisis center, with beds reserved for emergency detention.
Both projects offer ways to curb jail overcrowding and find alternatives to jail for the mentally ill and non-violent offenders – a longtime goal of Sheriff T.J. McDermott.
"I always operate under the premise that if it was my brother or my loved one, would I want them in jail or would I want them treated in a psychiatric hospital if they were having a psychiatric disorder?" Snyder said Thursday.
According to the sheriff's department, the mentally ill are often placed in Missoula's overcrowded jail instead of receiving treatment for their illness at a hospital.
But detention officers are not equipped to handle a jail population that increasingly suffers from mental illnesses, and must manage inmates who sometimes suffer psychotic episodes or drug-withdrawal symptoms.
"I believe there is some opportunity for us to formally work together to try and identify land and grant money, to try and identify other ways we can get this project funded," Snyder said. "With the understanding that one of our missions moving forward is to try to work more aggressively to try and divert people from the criminal justice system, or at least be able to treat them and stabilize them before sending them back to jail."
St. Patrick's administrators have been planning the new psychiatric care center for approximately a year, Snyder said.
The five-acre facility will have 10 adolescent beds, 18 psychiatric intensive care unit beds and 18 general psychiatric units, along with a 20-bed geriatric unit that will specialize in mental health for the elderly.
All together, that's 66 inpatient beds, 36 more psychiatric beds than are now available in Missoula, he said. And given that psychiatric admissions per month have nearly doubled since 2010, those extra beds are needed.
"We've definitely maximized our current capacity in terms of the number of beds we have," he said.
The new facility would also house outpatient psychiatric care, providing all mental health services offered by the hospital in one location.
"There are actually projections that there will be a need for more beds than that," he said. "But we are hoping through our other prevention efforts, our early identification, our work with the (Crisis Intervention Team) ... we can hopefully divert more people from in-patient services."
He said St. Pat's project is not in competition with the county's other goal of providing more emergency detention beds in a new crisis care center, but works alongside such a project in offering Missoula an array of solutions to mental health issues.
"There is a continuum of care that should be available for people, and that continuum of care should have rich resources for people, depending on what their needs are," he said.