Woodridge Hospital not affected by state budget issues

By Julie Fann
star staff

For Woodridge Hospital, living within state budget limits means nothing more than making the most of what is readily available, since the facility handles a large caseload of TennCare patients as well as the uninsured, according to hospital administrator, Dr. Don Larkin.
   "We've done some reorganizing on our units to serve more of the emergency needs of adult patients, but we still have the same number of beds," said Larkin. "The budget changes didn't really affect us that much. We've always accepted TennCare patients, and a number are without any insurance."
   A division of Frontier Health, Woodridge Hospital is a 75-bed nonprofit acute care facility offering psychiatric and substance abuse services. Therapy for adults, adolescents and children focuses on helping patients stabilize and develop better coping skills through cognitive-behavioral counseling and group therapy sometimes coupled with medication.
   Approximately half of the patients who are admitted to Woodridge Hospital are emergency commitments, meaning they have threatened to harm themselves or someone else, or they "aren't able to function normally," according to Larkin.
   When patients come to the hospital, an assessment is administered by the Frontier Health Crisis Response Team. Larkin said individuals who appear to be functioning normally but who report feeling depressed or anxious cannot legally or ethically be admitted without first meeting certain criteria.
   "If an individual says he or she is feeling severely depressed but they are still able to work full time and take care of themselves and/or their family, then we refer them for outpatient treatment," Larkin said.
   "We look at whether or not the individual is maybe out of touch with reality; if there is a risk of suicide or homicide; those kinds of things," he said.
   If half of Woodridge patients are emergency admissions, the other half are voluntary, according to Larkin, whose Ph.D. is in clinical psychology.
   Patient rooms at the facility work to balance privacy rights with safety. Most patient rooms sleep two people, "for safety reasons and for therapeutic reasons," said Larkin.
   "It's often in getting treatment with other patients who are in the same boat that people can help each other," he said.
   Currently, 70 of the 75 beds are full, which Larkin said is fairly common, though he didn't comment on an increased need for more beds.
   Expanding the hospital to house more patient beds is a complicated process that involves applying for a Certificate of Need (CON) through the Health Facilities Commission in Nashville. Mountain States Health Alliance's recent request for a CON to move beds, and Wellmont Health Systems' subsequent appeal, should be evidence to the public that expansion isn't that simple, according to Larkin.
   However, Larkin did note that the public seems to feel more comfortable facing mental health issues.
   Though the stigma that those who suffer from mental illness once experienced has lessened, Larkin believes there are still many hurdles to overcome in the battle against ignorance and intolerance.
   "That's why I'm always so open to talk to people publicly about mental illness. Our goal is that people will feel as comfortable coming to Woodridge for help with mental illness as they would going across the street to the med center with a broken arm," Larkin said.