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The Only Choice?

Forensic unit at WSH state’s smallest, but closure will be big loss

August 26, 2010
By BRIAN FERRY bferry@timesobserver.com
Closing the Warren State Hospital forensic unit would almost certainly be bad for Warren County, not to mention the individuals who make their living working at the unit. Local officials oppose the upcoming closure. Evidence of statewide savings of $2.3 million per year, the primary justification of the consolidation, is not well documented. Northern Pennsylvania residents who need the services of such a forensic unit would have to travel farther. Data and comparisons of the quality of care at Warren State Hospital and the facility to which its patients would be transferred have not been made public, if that information has even been considered. If meaningful quantifications and comparisons can even be made, no one at the state level has listed quality of care as a justification for the closure. But, if one of the three forensic units in the state must be closed, Warren’s would seem to be the only choice. The Warren State Hospital forensic unit is the smallest of the three, with about 25 patients and a capacity of 27. According to the president of the hospital’s board of trustees, Dr. Ray Feroz, the unit could house up to 54 patients with costly and extensive renovation. There are more patients than that at each of the other two facilities. So, if the state Department of Public Welfare was looking to close one facility and move its patients somewhere else, Warren’s was the only choice. The advisory board of trustees at WSH is opposed to the closure of the forensic unit. The members haven’t seen data that convinces them that patients’ needs will best be met elsewhere, nor have they seen detailed financial justification of the move. But there’s no way one of the other two facilities could close and send its patients to Warren. And, patients moved from Warren to Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County may see some better accommodations. There are currently more than 60 patients at Torrance State Hospital’s forensic unit, and with a recent expansion, that facility can hold a total of 100. At Norristown State Hospital’s forensic unit, the current and maximum capacity is 136 with no room for expansion. One of two ward units at Warren’s forensic unit is in use with 27 beds Medicare approved. Rooms in that unit hold four people per room with limited privacy, Feroz said. According to the DPW Director of Communications Michael Race, “the majority of rooms (at Torrance) are single occupancy with a few on each unit being double and one on each accommodating four.” “All bedrooms, bathrooms, and showers (at Torrance) were updated prior to the 2008 relocation of the RFPC (Regional Forensic Psychiatric Center) from Mayview to Torrance,” he said. At Warren’s unit, “the bathrooms and shower areas are in poor condition,” Feroz said. Opening a second ward could be done, but it wouldn’t be easy. “There is one additional ward area in the building,” Feroz said. “There would need to be major renovation to get it into compliance. This would include gutting the bathrooms, showers, and dismantling the administrative area to create living space for individuals receiving services.” “This area is not Medicare approved, so WSH would need to come into compliance with regulations,” he said. “It looks like it would cost a lot to bring it into compliance with state and federal regulations.”

Article Photos

Times Observer file photo
Warren State Hospital’s forensic unit

 
 

 

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