Tennessee says Knox County needs inpatient mental health hospital
Tennessee says Knox County needs inpatient mental health hospital

Knox County lacks adequate mental health care for its residents, and local leaders are asking for help. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, after conducting an extensive audit, agrees.

Now it’s up to local lawmakers to lobby the Tennessee Legislature and Gov. Bill Lee to allocate funds for a new psychiatric hospital northeast of Chattanooga, specifically in the Knox County area. The report shows the need for more inpatient beds, but does not set out a road map for how to provide this.

State Sens. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, and Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville; and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, suspected Northeast Tennessee lacked publicly funded mental health services. They were pushed by the Knoxville City Council and the Knox County Commission to get state-funded help for the neediest.

Private hospitals do not meet the needs of those authorized to receive post-prison care or those who are poor or underinsured.

Time is of the essence with a growing population.

When Lakeshore Mental Health Institute closed in 2011, the state reinvested the money saved from closing Lakeshore into nonprofit and private facilities such as the McNabb Center and Covenant Health.

Since it closed, the closest state-funded inpatient mental health facility has been in Chattanooga. It is difficult for patients to get there and for the police to transport patients that far.

Public hospitals primarily serve patients who are uninsured, in crisis, coming from prison or court and have significant discharge needs, according to the report.

“At current operating levels, private hospital capacity is 88 beds short of the research-supported minimum. With no way of predicting increases or decreases in the number of beds among private operators and the regional population expected to grow by around 200,000 over the next three decades, it is not unreasonable to think that the shortage of beds for adults will fall further into deficit.” , the report said.

City and county officials have pushed for a facility

Following a joint mental health workshop in 2022, members of the Knoxville City Council and the Knox County Commission advocated for a mental health facility.

“Knox County has the largest admission to the state facility in Moccasin Bend,” the county’s resolution for the Chattanooga Mental Health Institute said.

The Knox County Jail spends about $17,000 a month on mental health medication for approximately 585 inmates with a diagnosed mental illness, the resolution said. The Knox County Sheriff’s Office transported 253 people, as well as 51 others who were in the Knox County Detention Center, to Moccasin Bend in the last fiscal year.

Commissioners renewed their push in October with their annual list of legislative priorities for Nashville lawmakers. Lawmakers then requested the study.

Why did Lakeshore close?

Lakeshore Mental Health Institute was founded in 1886 and served residents in 24 counties when it closed. It had 115 beds and 375 full-time employees, according to the report. Declining admissions and a strong network of community behavioral health providers contributed to the state’s decision.

“An assessment of the long-term inpatients at Lakeshore Mental Health Institute was carried out and it was determined that the majority of the remaining patients could be adequately supported in the community. There were several strong community mental health centers in the area that were able to scale up services, allowing for successful placement of patients in the community. Additionally, three private psychiatric hospitals in the region were willing and able to serve individuals requiring inpatient psychiatric services,” the report said.

Who are publicly funded facilities for?

The basic needs of patients at Moccasin Bend are different from those of private inpatient hospitals with government contracts. Schizophrenia and psychotic disorders, drug-related disorders, anxiety, and stress-related disorders accounted for 67% of primary diagnoses in Moccasin Bend, while mood disorders accounted for 33%.

In state-contracted private inpatient hospitals, mood disorders accounted for 66%, while other disorders accounted for the remaining 34%.

Ali Feinberg reports on politics for Knox News. Email her: [email protected] and follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter, @alliefeinberg.

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