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Regional Health Behavioral Health Center

The Regional Health Behavioral Health Center on Mountain View Road in Rapid City.

The recommendations in a new report on behavioral health in Pennington County include adding 30 more inpatient psychiatric beds at Regional Health Behavioral Health Center.

The center currently has 52 beds, including 18 for children and 34 for adults. The report predicts that adding 30 more beds would solve the longstanding problem of patients having to wait for transportation to South Dakota’s only public psychiatric hospital, the Human Services Center, located 350 miles from Rapid City in Yankton.

The Behavioral Health Center “should become the major treatment facility for Western South Dakota,” the report says, “with transfers to HSC being rare and only for the most severely ill patients with serious mental illness who cannot be stabilized and treated at Regional.”

“This change will nearly eliminate the need for law enforcement to transfer people to HSC, thereby saving time, money and stress on both staff and patients,” the report says.

The report acknowledges a financial problem standing in the way of the recommendation: the Behavioral Health Center’s annual loss of approximately $2 million per year to un-reimbursed services. The report blames those losses on under-funding by state government, patients who lack insurance, and difficulties encountered while processing insurance claims from the Indian Health Service. Adding beds will “require addressing the current shortfall,” the report says.

The report was prepared by consultants associated with the National Council for Behavioral Health. Pennington County’s Department of Health and Human Services commissioned the council to do a study with $117,000 in funding granted by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

John Pierce, president of Regional Health's Rapid City hospital and market, said in a statement provided to the Journal that Regional Health looks forward to reviewing the report, its recommendations and future steps with county officials and the West River Behavioral Health Alliance.

Meanwhile, Pierce said, Regional Health announced the addition of eight beds to the Behavioral Health Center in May, allowing the center to care for 730 more patients per year.

Regional Health’s new Emergency Department recently opened with five specially designed behavioral health rooms and 24/7 telepsychiatry services. Telepsychiatry allows patients to be seen electronically by an on-duty psychiatrist in Sioux Falls when it’s after-hours in Rapid City, or when no on-duty psychiatrist is available locally.

Expanding telehealth to remote counties in the Rapid City region is one of the report’s other 12 recommendations. With investments in tablet devices or mobile phones, the report says, “Law enforcement in rural jurisdictions could then bring patients to an appropriate location within their own county to receive services via telehealth from a remote practitioner.”

Some of the report’s further recommendations are:

  • Developing a crisis stabilization unit at the county’s new Care Campus, which the report said could ultimately reduce the need for additional beds at the Behavioral Health Center.
  • Expanding the local network of recovery housing and employment supports for people with behavioral health problems.
  • Conducting further studies on the operations of the Care Campus, the funding challenges related to services for Native Americans, and problems related specifically to children’s behavioral health.
  • Adding additional case managers to local specialty courts that handle drugs, driving under the influence, veterans and mental health.

Three consultants who worked on the study presented their findings during a Pennington County Commission meeting Oct. 15 at the county’s Administration Building in Rapid City.

One of the consultants, Joan Kenerson King, said she was impressed by the county’s existing facilities, including the new Care Campus, and by the amount of local collaboration on mental health.

“We are in and out of a lot of communities in the course of a year,” King told the county commission, “and this community has some amazing strengths to build on.”

Barry Tice, director of Pennington County’s Health and Human Services Department, said the West River Behavioral Health Alliance is the likely entity to assess and take action on the report’s recommendations. He said the alliance was formed in 2016 and includes 25 to 30 people representing local, regional and state organizations.

Tice said he and other Alliance members appreciate the report for its potential to sharpen the group’s focus.

“We’ve demonstrated in Pennington County that we have a committed group of folks who are always looking at better ways to deliver services,” Tice said.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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