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Old St. Joe's hospital could become mental health facility

The old St. Joseph’s hospital building in Dickinson could soon become a mental health facility. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)

St. Joseph's hospital has sat empty in the middle of Dickinson for nearly two and half years, but it may finally have a purpose.

Although nothing is finalized yet the hospital may serve as a landing spot for those with mental illness and addiction issues, said Reed Reyman, president of CHI St. Alexius in Dickinson. Reyman said while the old hospital is still for sale, Jeffrey Drop, senior vice president for CHI, agreed if the facility could be used for something that would benefit the community, CHI would happily donate it.

"We're moving forward with that and the idea was to have a systemic approach," he said. "What that meant was we had to figure out what resources do we have for mental health. Who can provide what? Do we have barriers in place that keep us from providing? How come there isn't access? What do we need to do here so people don't have to go down the road for services?"

The old building has been kept up to code so it will be ready to be moved into whenever the time is right, Reyman said. CHI wants to keep the rent "reasonable" so that anyone who wants to provide services for mental health will be able to do so.

"The idea is to get everyone under one-roof logistically," Reyman said. "So it's kind of a one-stop-shop concept. We want to start treating (mental health) as chronic, rather than acute. ... We all know that mental health and behavioral health issues aren't like a broken bone typically."

It is also important that mental health providers and lawmakers are not putting up barriers to make it harder to see and treat people, Reyman said. There can often be many self-imposed, state-imposed and other regulatory laws that providers must follow, however that can often prevent people from receiving the help they need.

"What's kind of ironic about that though is everybody can come to the emergency room and a physician who has medical training but maybe not psychological training or addiction training, yet we're required to treat all those people," he said.

He believes that all mental and behavioral health providers should have to help the person, just like a hospital helps anyone that comes in.

The old hospital gives the city a couple advantages, Reyman said. First, there is a building so no one is going to have to invest a lot of money into putting one up and the community wouldn't be the ones paying for it. Second, the old hospital was segmented, which would be beneficial for a mental health facility so different types of behavioral and mental health could be treated at once.

Reyman noted that much of western North Dakota, northwest South Dakota and eastern Montana does not have a major, inpatient and outpatient mental health facility.

"It just makes sense logistically on the map, it makes sense logistically in the building in Dickinson where we're at, it makes sense to try and get everybody under one roof basically and see what we can do and try and create," Reyman said. "I think we're small enough, 50,000 to 60,000 people, that it's manageable. I think we can create a model for the next couple, three years that can be replicated and be made bigger."

Working together

Stark County Commission member Jay Elkin has been a part of the project from the beginning and believes having a mental health facility in Dickinson would be beneficial in many ways. He said the sheriff's office has been having to transport people multiple times a week to wherever there was a facility that could help that individual, which can be very costly.

"Most of us felt that maybe it's time that somehow we try to facilitate or put together a facility out here that could meet the needs of western North Dakota," Elkin said. "It's very costly to move people. You can do one of two things, you either try to find a facility to take care of that individual or you just lock them up in jail."

Elkin said it would be better for addicts and society to get them the help they need, rather than locking them up as you are hopefully treating the actual problem that would keep them out of jail in the first place.

"I've seen this happen," he said. "I've seen the people that have these issues. I've seen them just locked up. ... You have to feel for these people. We all have a heart hopefully, but the fact of the matter is we're trying to help those people that have a need."

The county's goal is to be a part of a bigger group to come up with solutions to fund the project long-term. Elkin said a project like this could never be totally facilitated by the county, city, state or private sector. It will take everyone working together to succeed.

"This project is going to have to be a viable project," he said. "It's going to have to stand on its own without a lot of state support so with the hospital's help and with a number of others, whether it be Badlands Human Services or a number of other parties that are committed to this hopefully we can lift this project off the ground."

Reyman said so far they have had one proposal come forward, but they are being careful because they do not want to get into a situation where there would be "strings attached" that would cause CHI to get the building back. So, they may lease the building to get everything up and running. Their goal is to have something in place by Sept. 1, 2017. Reyman said they need the building at least half-full in order for the proposition to break-even.

"Hopefully the idea is to not let the old hospital have to be torn down," he said. "I think it's a valuable resource. Especially for mental health and behavioral health. ... I think everybody has been engaged from top to bottom. I think everybody's ready for something to occur."

Dickinson Mayor Scott Decker said having a mental health facility would benefit the entire city and surrounding area.

"A healthy community provides a benefit to the whole city," he said. "... I think the public acknowledges that we can no longer just ignore the fact that there are people that need addiction counseling and there are people that need mental health counseling and behavioral health (counseling) as a whole. It affects everyone in the city and every family in the city."

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook started working as the multimedia editor for The Press in January 2016.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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