State Hospital readying for major construction, shift in treatments

© 2017-Uinta County Herald

EVANSTON — Over the next two years, the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston will become a completely different facility. 

The Wyoming State Legislature is not only remodeling the Wyoming State Hospital but the Life Resource Center in Lander as well, and has appropriated $150 million for both projects. Rep. Lloyd Larsen (HD-54), chairman of the Health Facilities task force, said the legislature expects to spend between $70-75 million for each but won’t have any concrete numbers until the bids come in. Larsen said he expects the approximately two-year project to break ground in the spring of 2018 after the project goes out for bid in December. 

The task force got direct input from staff about the new facility during the design process with the architects and engineers, HOK from St. Louis and Architecture I from Massachusetts.

Hospital administrators said the new hospital building is tailored to the needs of the staff and patients, as both design and engineering experts as well as staff had a chance to talk about the kind of furnishings, materials, security systems and other things the hospital needs. 

“They’ve had as much influence on the design of this new facility as the architects themselves,” Larsen said of the employees’ input. “… We’ve put a lot of effort in ensuring that we’ve got the right people designing the building, that we didn’t sidestep the people who work there.”

The State Hospital’s business manager, Paul Mullenax, estimated that two-thirds of the staff have given some sort of input. 

All told, the new plans look to consolidate the hospital’s campus of about 30 buildings to a single main building and a couple of auxiliary buildings. This will also condense the hospital by a little more than half — but even though it will take up less space, Mullenax said the hospital will still employ either the same number of staff (around 350) or a few more, although the hospital could focus more on nursing staff than maintenance staff. There will also be one more bed than the hospital has now.

Hospital administrators said the upcoming changes will make things more efficient and up-to-date, but they readily acknowledged the difficulties involved in such an upheaval, not only through new buildings but in culture change.

“It’s going to bring some challenges for our staff because we are going to have to change our mindset on how we take care of some of these patients,” Dunkley said. 

Wyoming’s State Hospital is not alone in this, though, and administrators and legislators are taking advantage of other states’ programs, including Oregon State Hospital and Washington State Hospital, to plan out the next steps. 

Mullenax said one of the major visions is that the State Hospital will transition to an acute short-term hospital, ideally with an average stay of less than 90 days. He said that the current average stay is closer to 200 days, although that includes long-term geriatric patients as well. 

Dr. David Carrington, who is the medical director at the hospital, said one of the major barriers to getting people out sooner is finding appropriate housing options for them so they don’t regress and have to be readmitted. He said the hospital’s ultimate goal is to help people achieve “protracted clinical stability.”

Part of the spread-out nature of the campus is also caused by the newest building, which is located on its own road apart from the original hospital campus. For instance, Mullenax said, it takes about an hour for each food delivery from the cafeteria because the cafeteria is so far from the residence halls. 

Many of the current buildings are also old and outdated. The Karn Building (which holds forensic patients) is set up like a prison, with cinder blocks, high security, individual cells, a tiny personal space, everything bolted to the floor and a community shower. In fact, the forensic treatment program in particular will undergo major changes. Dunkley said the current culture is to put forensic patients in a high-security environment for the necessary evaluation and treatment, but with the facility and program remodels, those patients will be secured but in a more friendly setting similar to dorms. 

“We think that it’s going to be a facility that people are going to want to come and work at more,” Larsen said. “... It’s going to be a very impressive facility, and I think right now it’s difficult to recruit healthcare professionals ... to work in facilities in the state.” 

State Hospital administrator Richard Dunkley said the new hospital residence areas will be more like dorm rooms in many ways, and Mullenax added that more enclosed courtyards will allow more activities and outside events. 

“The buildings that we have are old buildings,” Dunkley said. “… It will be nice because we’ll have the latest and greatest in equipment.” 

Some of that includes common amenities, such as air conditioning and more efficient heating systems.

“It’s going to be a big thing for Evanston, I think,” Larsen said. “... This is going to direct healthcare for people who are involuntarily committed or ... who have some mental illness and are in the legal system. But it’s going to direct how we treat them over the next century.” 

“The design and function of this building is going to be felt by the state for many decades to come,” he said.

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