Lawmakers asked to expand mental health facilities

(AP) " Nevada lawmakers were told Thursday the state needs to upgrade and expand its mental health facilities to ensure they are safe and federal funds aren't jeopardized.

State Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services officials told a Senate-Assembly budget subcommittee that buildings in the Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services complex in Sparks are falling apart.

"We have buildings that are still in use that were built in the 1920s," said division administrator Harold Cook, adding that many of the buildings have toxic agents such as asbestos in the walls.

The division has proposed demolishing seven buildings and constructing one facility that would consolidate outpatient and administrative services under one roof at a cost of $56 million.

Chris Chimits, deputy manager for the state Public Works Board, said the project would cost 20 percent less than it would have several years ago. It also would save the state money in the long run, because the older buildings cost more to operate.

"Right now is a good time to construct, because it puts people to work, it saves us money, and it solves some institutional issues in the way they take care of people," Chimits said.

The division also requested to build a new 36-bed facility in Las Vegas to serve children and adolescents.

Lawmakers were told that recent Medicaid rule changes require the state to provide separate facilities for residential treatment and acute care. If the state does not comply, it could lose Medicaid funding.

"We want to go fast on it so that we don't put any federal Medicaid money at risk," Chimits said. "We need every federal dollar we can get in this state."

Lawmakers also were told that the Las Vegas Valley has seen unprecedented growth in the number of children who need psychiatric care, and some wind up in hospital emergency rooms instead of facilities where they can be helped.

Currently, the Desert Willow Treatment Center in Las Vegas is the only facility in the state that cares for uninsured children who have been rejected by private facilities.

The new facility "would cover the need we currently have for acute psychiatric beds, and it's also going to free up 10 beds in Desert Willow so that we can expand treatment," said Diane Comeaux, administrator for the Division of Child and Family Services.

Comeaux said that the state has not been given a timeline for compliance with federal standards, prompting Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, to say, "I hope that they wait a little bit before they start assessing penalties."

Lawmakers also discussed a plan to install a panic alarm at Dini Townsend Hospital, which is part of the Northern Nevada Mental Health Institute in Sparks.

The alarm has been requested since the facility was built in 2001. But at the time, soaring construction costs led to a decision to wait.

"We're reducing some staff at this hospital," said Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas. "If we're reducing staff, somebody might need help, and it might take longer to get that help."

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