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Mental health, family care to be offered at former hospital

Florence Reminder and Blade-Tribune - 11/22/2017

FLORENCE - Horizon Health and Wellness, operator of several health care centers in central and southern Arizona, has announced plans to offer mental health treatment and family medicine in the former county hospital at 450 W. Adamsville Road in Florence.

The former emergency room, vacant for five years, is now being extensively renovated to be a 24-bed observation and stabilization unit, a kind of psychiatric emergency room, for adult mental health patients. Horizon hopes to open the facility - which does not yet have a name - in approximately four months, and will hire a variety of positions.

Family medicine, also known as primary care, should be available at around the same time the new center's psychiatric ER opens, according to Gustavo E. McGrew, director of community relations for Horizon.

Later construction phases will add 16 inpatient beds for psychiatric patients, and a separate 14-bed observation unit for adolescent patients. The old hospital, known for years as Central Arizona Medical Center, covers almost 90,000 square feet, and Horizon has plans for all of it, according to Julie Flack, Horizon's chief of inpatient and crisis services.

With outpatient medical care and radiology renting space, "it's completely integrated care," treating both the mental and physical conditions, Flack said. Rather than a psychiatric hospital, she refers to it as an integrated health care center. "You take care of the full person."

The new Florence center will also offer a walk-in or "bridge clinic" for mental health patients. Anyone who's experiencing a crisis or may need medications or an evaluation can walk in and be seen and can be referred to other services, if needed. There will be a separate bridge clinic with a separate entrance for adolescent patients.

Flack said a center like this in Florence is likely to treat depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder ? "an array of things." She said sometimes the problem is "situational" - stress from a divorce, losing a home or other crisis makes a patient think of harming himself or someone else. It doesn't mean he has a mental illness, it's the situation causing him to seek a referral to resources, Flack said.

Sometimes the community worries such a facility will release seriously mentally ill patients "to the street," but McGrew said that doesn't happen. "We do coordination of care. We make sure if folks come from a different community, we take them back to that community or have them already connected to another service."

Horizon Health plans to hold forums to present their plans and services to neighbors and the community, Flack added.

McGrew said the new center is expected to be a great benefit to area law enforcement, which will have a place to take someone who appears to have a mental health issue.

Flack said the observation unit will have a separate police entrance. Because it's a locked facility, the police don't have to stay with the patient and can be back on the road in perhaps five minutes.

It's also a benefit to area hospitals, because psychiatric patients aren't "clogging up" regular emergency rooms that often don't have the treatment they need, Flack said.

Flack and McGrew said the new Florence facility will be similar to the company's Horizon Acute Care Center in Yuma, which definitely fills a need.

"We provide a great deal or relief for Yuma Medical Center," which used to have psychiatric patients in its ER. "We have alleviated that burden because their ER wasn't big enough to take care of all that," Flack said.

The new center's "obs" unit, or psychiatric emergency room, is a place for triage to determine if the patient needs inpatient treatment or can be transferred to a substance abuse program, Flack said. The facility has 23 hours to determine what the patient needs, per the facility's license.

"We're supposed to make a decision within 23 hours, in that facility, and move them on to the next level of care. It's really just like an ER," Flack said.

Anyone, including the uninsured, will be welcome, she said. Horizon is funded by regional behavioral health authority Cenpatico. If a patient doesn't have insurance, Horizon will help them apply as part of the admissions process. "We don't turn anybody away," McGrew said.

The building is also Medicare-approved, which is a big reason Horizon Health wanted to buy it, Flack said.

Horizon was thinking of a community psychiatric center in the Florence area when an employee, who used to be a nurse in Florence, told Flack about the vacant hospital. The company had to do some research to figure out who owned it and bought it in June of 2016.

Horizon will invest well over $1 million to prepare the campus to reopen for mental health patients, Flack said.

Initiatives Healthcare of Boise, Idaho, invested heavily to bring the former Central Arizona Medical Center up to code and reopen it, but operated it barely two years before closing it in mid-2012. Family physician Dr. Harinder Takyar made efforts toward reopening it in 2013, but no opening date was ever announced.

Plans now are for the center to hire all sorts of employees, including nurses, behavioral health technicians, registration clerks, kitchen staff and others. Flack couldn't say how many total employees will work at the facility, although there could be more than 120 on the psychiatric side alone.

Interested persons may watch the website,hhwaz.org, for information on when the company will begin accepting applications at its new Florence location.

 
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