The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

February 7, 2014

Keith Schafer, guest columnist: Fulton Hospital is state’s moral responsibility

— Fulton State Hospital, built in 1851, is the oldest state psychiatric hospital west of the Mississippi River. For the past 163 years, Fulton Hospital has treated patients with serious mental illness who pose a threat to themselves and our communities.

In the past five years, the facility has taken in over 1,000 admissions from 99 Missouri counties and the City of St. Louis. The staff at Fulton Hospital provides care for these patients and in turn keeps the rest of us safe.

As Missourians, we have a moral responsibility to these patients and their caregivers to provide the best possible environment — one that is safe, secure and conducive to healing

But today, the patient wards are old, deteriorating, dark and cramped with low ceilings and concrete cinderblock walls, ceiling and floors. They are exceedingly noisy, which creates significant problems for people with serious mental illness. This creates a dangerous environment for patients and staff. Support services buildings on campus are also a major problem. For example, the kitchen uses equipment left over from the Korean War.

It’s time to build a new Fulton Hospital to meet our moral obligation to the staff and patients within its walls and to ensure the safety of communities across our state.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health has done everything it can to move less dangerous patients to other state psychiatric hospitals and maximize existing space on the Fulton campus to house patients. But we have run out of options, and we are running out of time. We need a new Fulton Hospital, and we can’t afford to wait.

I strongly believe that a new high security facility is a critical investment for improving patient care for people with serious mental illness; for reducing serious employee injuries and turnover of our employees; for creating major economic opportunities for the region; and ultimately, for better protection and safety of all Missourians.

Keith Schafer is the director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

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