MHC preps to vacate two buildings

Monday, December 29, 2003

The Marshall Habilitation Center is scheduled to vacate two structures within the next two and a half years. The buildings to be vacated are the "L" Building and the Mid-Campus Building, which together currently house 55 MHC clients.

Thirty-three clients live on the first two stories of the four-story L Building and 18 clients live on the top floor of the three-story Mid-Campus Building, built in 1950.

"L Building, built in 1949, is in decent shape, but its design is not 'conductive' to the type of treatment that has proven to be successful in recent years," said Lois Thomas, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Mental Health. "The goal of treatment (at habilitation centers) is for people to be able to function in their own homes. Treatment provided in a home-like setting gets people accustomed to a more typical lifestyle, with their own separate areas for sleeping, preparing food, eating and relaxing. The dormitory-style setup, with two to three people to a bedroom, and large common areas for eating and relaxing, does not provide much in the way of privacy and is more like an open ward than a real home."

The Missouri Department of Mental Health has been involved in four building closures over the last three years, according to its Web site, Two closings -- at the Higginsville Habilitation Center Aspen Cottage and a private provider -- are complete.

The closing of MHC's Skilled Nursing Unit, which was built in 1969 and serves 16 clients deemed medically fragile, is still under way and is set to be finished by fiscal year 2005. The state mental health department reported the closings are not caused by funding cuts, and habilitation centers such as MHC will continue to be operational.

Over the past two years, the Division of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities said it has worked to ensure living arrangements at Missouri's six habilitation centers are safe, wholesome and efficient in terms of maintenance and improvement costs. Through its review process, the division has identified buildings on the campuses of Marshall, Nevada and Bellefontaine habilitation centers that need to be vacated in the next few years.

These closings will save money in future years because habilitation centers will no longer be requesting funds to maintain these buildings, said officials in the department's headquarters in Jefferson City. The funds that had served individuals in the habilitation centers will be transferred from the habilitation center budgets to the division's community programs appropriation to purchase services in communities.

The closing of buildings and reduction in bed capacity will cause a reduction in staff at the habilitation centers. The Division of Mental Health said it will do everything possible to continue to employ affected staff in similar positions within each facility. Most facilities continue to have vacant positions they are unable to fill because of a shortage in qualified candidates.

The rising number of habilitation center staff eligible for retirement over the next two fiscal years may also provide jobs for staff impacted by the closing of buildings.

"There is not a hiring freeze in place," Thomas said. "We are filling all direct-care positions that become vacant. The filling of other vacated positions -- those not related to direct client care -- will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis."

Marshall Habilitation Center tore down Cottage F and G, the Star Center and the Oaks Building starting in late 2000. The buildings had stood nearly a century on the center's campus.

MHC Superintendent Mary Fangman, through her secretary, refused to comment and directed all questions to the mental health department.

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