A children’s psychiatric hospital in Brooklyn Park has won endorsement for a major expansion from the Minnesota Department of Health, which cited an ongoing shortage of mental health care in the state.
In a public interest review required before any expansion of hospital bed capacity in Minnesota, the department notified the Legislature that the facility should be allowed to expand by adding second patient beds to 21 of its 50 hospital rooms. The hospital is owned by PrairieCare, a fast-growing Twin Cities mental health practice.
“This facility would in some ways address the barriers that children are experiencing in this part of Minnesota and would do so at a relatively low impact in terms of workforce and the finances of other hospitals, and also in terms of health care cost because it would expand existing capacity by adding beds to patient rooms,” said Stefan Gildemeister, the state health economist who led the review and released it Monday.
The report was anticlimactic, as the Health Department had already hinted that it would support the project so legislators could vote this spring to grant it an exception to the state’s moratorium on hospital bed expansion.
It nonetheless was an intriguing finding by the department, which blocked a proposal by PrairieCare’s predecessor organization, Prairie-St. Johns, to build an adult and pediatric psychiatric hospital in Woodbury a decade ago. The state later permitted PrairieCare’s plans for a Maple Grove pediatric hospital, which filled up so quickly that it was replaced in 2015 by the current hospital.
Denial of the Woodbury hospital was based on the premise that outpatient services would be cheaper and better solutions than inpatient beds to the shortage of mental health care. And the latest review pressed that concern.
Gildemeister said a shortage of inpatient mental health beds is “sort of an indication that the rest of the system doesn’t work” because it is failing to keep mentally ill children stable. But he said this expansion was different from the Woodbury proposal — and accessible to a section of central Minnesota that clearly lacks mental health services.
The report revealed one trend for which for-profit PrairieCare has been criticized: Its share of patients covered by more lucrative private insurance is larger than at other hospitals with child inpatient mental health units.
However, Gildemeister said the gap between PrairieCare and other hospitals wasn’t extreme, nor did it result in negative formal comments during the review from insurers and competing hospitals.
PrairieCare is now applying to the state to expand its hospital bed capacity, and hopes to add beds after the summer, when demand typically rises, said Dr. Joel Oberstar, PrairieCare’s chief executive.
“Over the last many years, we’ve thought the needs of the [mental health] system were not being adequately met by the number of beds,” he said.
The state review showed that many hospitals often had days when 90 percent or more of their child mental health beds were filled. PrairieCare’s hospital was more than 90 percent full on 145 days in 2015.
The review also analyzed the safety of putting child mental health patients together in one hospital room and found the practice to be fairly common and beneficial, in the right circumstances.
Oberstar said one benefit is that patients can watch out for one another, which can reduce the risk of self-harm.