Health Care Commission upholds psychiatric hospital approval

A 90-bed psychiatric hospital is still coming to Georgetown, after the failed appeal of the project’s initial approval was heard before the Delaware Health Care Commission. The 70,000-square-foot hospital is to be located in Georgetown, adjacent to La Red and Beebe Healthcare facilities. The project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2017, with construction to begin next year.

The facility, which will employ approximately 150 people, will provide treatment for children, adolescents, adults and seniors through intensive in-patient treatment, out-patient care and specialty programs for women, veterans and those dealing with substance abuse.

In October, Universal Health Services (UHS), which had voiced opposition to the scale of the project at the initial public hearing, appealed the commission’s decision.

At the Dec. 17 appeal hearing, the board reconsidered the UHS appeal but ultimately did not overturn their decision.

Jason Powell, attorney for Universal Health Services, spoke to the board about their reasons for appeal.

“Why are we here and why did we object to this application in the first place? ... My clients live and breathe mental illness every day and work closely to other healthcare providers, hospitals, the State of Delaware and the court-appointed monitor, and have done so for years.”

Powell said his clients welcome any outside provider that can provide “appropriate care.”

“What we’re asking is that you reconsider the scope and size of the project. This is the time to right-size this project. This project is too big. That’s why my clients are here.

“This proposal, in its current scope and size, is not beneficial for the state of Delaware or its citizens.”

Powell said that SUN’s decision to offer 90 beds was arbitrary and an “excessive number.”

“Approval of a project of 90 beds will greatly over-bed this state,” he added.

Lisa Goodman, who represented SUN Behavioral Health, argued that the appeal filed by UHS didn’t meet the standards required to decide if the board should reconsider their October decision to approve the initial application.

Goodman submitted that no newly discovered, significant or relevant information that was not available to the commission was presented.

“What they’re arguing is they don’t agree with the conclusions you drew from the evidence. The fact that they don’t agree does not meet the standard.”

She added that there had been no significant changes in fact or circumstance since the commission made its decision to approve the application.

“The third thing that could prompt you to rehear this is if you agree that you, as a body, materially failed to follow your procedures. You did not hear Mr. Powell argue that. Again, in good conscience, I don’t think that he can. You put this through your very careful process.”

Dr. Nicholas Perchiniak, the associate medical director of the emergency department at Beebe spoke in favor of the 90-bed facility.

Perchiniak said that, from June 1 to Dec. 17, for involuntary admissions, 46 percent of patients waited longer than 12 hours; 10 percent waited longer than 24 hours; and 3 percent of patients waited longer than 36 hours.

“The longest length of stay was in November — a patient waited nearly 100 hours for inpatient care. This patient — we were told by the referral facility that all beds were at capacity.”

Perchiniak said that, working in Beebe’s emergency department, he has a firsthand view of the need for more inpatient beds in Sussex County.

“I think this is a critical resource, not only for our emergency departments to treat these patients appropriately, but also to allow for general medical care,” he said, “and also for the outpatient care that a facility like this would be able provide.”

Steven Page, president and CEO of SUN, said the facility would not have an excess of beds and would be providing services needed by Sussex Countians.

“We didn’t just happen upon Delaware. We were asked by the hospital CEOs in Sussex County to come and evaluate and see what’s going on. They were seeing it. They were seeing challenges in placement, and they were being told, ‘No bed available.’”

During discussions, John Walsh — a citizen serving on the commission — had reached out to state legislators, asking them to weigh in on whether or not the facility was needed. Walsh abstained from voting at the Dec. 17 appeal hearing.

Yrene Waldron, executive director of the Delaware Healthcare Facilities Association, also motioned that the commission reconsider the board’s scope.

“We have difficult jobs. We’re a volunteer board. We try to do our due diligence. We come with our hearts and our minds ready to really get engaged and do the very best job that we can to make the right decisions, but none of us want to be taken to court… It’s a hard job to be on this board.”

Waldron motioned that the board reconsider its decision in terms of the size of the project, stating that the board may have failed in fully considering the size and scale of the project. The motion failed, with a 3-4 vote.

Commissioner Dr. Vincent Lobo also moved the board consider reopening discussions.

“I see no problem with having another meeting and having a full discussion… I don’t think it would hurt anything,” said Lobo.

Lobo’s motion failed, again with a 3-4 vote, and the board’s original approval stood.