License, Funding Issues Threaten Decatur General West

DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) – There is the real possibility that Decatur could soon lose one of its hospitals. Decatur Morgan West is a psychiatric facility with over a hundred employees and as many as 50 patients at any given time. The Alabama Department of Public Health says the hospital will have to make millions of dollars in upgrades in order to renew its license.

There’s no word on when the facility might close but hospital officials say they’ll probably know whats going to happen within the next two weeks. Decatur General West, as it’s known, has been licensed as an acute care hospital for the last 20 years, even though they treat psychiatric patients exclusively. But in order to keep that license, state officials say they’ll have to add services and facilities like an emergency room, x-ray lab and other facilities that will cost the hospital millions of dollars.

William Giguere is with the Foundation for Mental Health in Morgan County. They provide mental health care services to approximately 5 thousand patients. We told him it was our observation there seemed to be fewer options for those needing mental health care services.

“That’s more than an observation, that’s a fact,” Giguere says. “There are fewer resources available for community mental health centers and other providers to provide services to the community.”

If Decatur General West is forced to close, Giguere says it will have a tremendous impact not only on those who need mental health care services, but on the entire community.

“You’re going to see increased numbers in hospital emergency rooms, you’re going to see increased numbers in jails, in prisons, it puts more of a tax on emergency medical services, the fire department, on the police department,”He says.

Decatur General West will finish the fiscal year with a deficit of almost two million dollars. But it’s the upgrades being ordered by the state to renew their license that could mean the end of the facility. A hospital spokesperson says the upgrades are simply not feasible.

“As a matter of fact, they were cost prohibitive. So now we’re working with them (the state) to see if we can come up with a plan for us to continue to operate this facility and this much needed program under the 20-year old guidelines that we’ve been operating under that they gave us,” says Leigh Hays, Decatur Morgan Hospital spokesperson.

Hays says it will be another couple of weeks before they know exactly what they’ll have to do. She says while a number of options are being explored, she stresses there have been no formal discussions about closing the facility. That, Hays said, would represent a worst case scenario and would only happen if all other options were exhausted.