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Crossroads feels effects of mental health unit closing

By JR Ortega
March 27, 2011 at 11 p.m.
Updated March 26, 2011 at 10:27 p.m.


Since the inpatient psychiatric unit closed at Citizens Medical Center's One South last April, the state of care has gone somewhat, well, south.

The unit closed in April after its three independent psychiatrists requested leave of absence and now, almost a year later, the county and residents are beginning to pay the price in some way, law enforcement officials say.

Since the unit's closure, the biggest change has been keeping and widening the lines of communication between the Victoria County Sheriff's Office, Victoria Police Department, Gulf Bend Center and Citizens Medical Center.

Still, the number of patients being transported to state hospitals and inpatient facilities out of county has proven dire for Victoria law enforcement officials, said Capt. Herb Tucker with the sheriff's office.

"I really feel there should be an inpatient facility within the Crossroads," Tucker said.

In 2009, the last full year One South was open, the sheriff's office made 117 transports. In 2010, when the unit closed, 152 transports were made, said Lt. Gary Lytle, who helps compile transport data.

In August 2010, the sheriff's office worked out an agreement with the police department to have its officers begin making transports because of the increased transport volume. Before that agreement, the sheriff's office handled transports, Lytle said.

The police department has transported 25 in the eight- month period, according to information provided by the police department.

This climbing number was expected because there is no real local help now, said Don Polzin, Gulf Bend Center's executive director.

"Certainly it was nice to have that here in our community," Polzin said.

Though Polzin agrees an inpatient unit would be great for the community, if the census numbers are not there to justify the unit's resurrection, it simply won't happen.

"If the census isn't there to support the unit, it's not going to survive," he said.

David Brown, Citizens' chief executive officer, said last year that patient numbers were low. The unit saw only about four people a day toward the last days of its life.

"I don't think we'll ever reopen," Brown said. "There has to be psychiatrists willing to practice at an inpatient location."

The communication between the hospitals, Gulf Bend Center and law enforcement has become stronger, Brown agreed.

Still, many psychiatrists are leaning more toward outpatient services because of its efficiency, he said.

The vision that has been taken is to realize mental illness is a community issue, from the residents of the city, to the law enforcement and Gulf Bend Center, Polzin said.

"We don't have all the resources nor do we have all the knowledge," he said. "It takes all of us to have, what I would call, a reasonably tight safety net."

Gulf Bend is in talks about the possibility of opening a center for situational crises to help hit a target area the center doesn't already hit. The center focuses more on schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and clinical depression.

Patsy Weppler has heard a lot of worry from people who go to support group meetings with the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Victoria.

"It's about those who suffer from their illness," said Weppler, the president of the Victoria alliance. "Knowing they'll have episodes from time to time. You know you'll have to leave your security blanket, which is home."

Weppler directs people as best as she can, but the truth is something is still missing, she said.

"It's here," Weppler said about the mental health issues. "Victoria needs a psychiatric ward."

Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor understands the concerns being raised by the public.

Making efforts to talk about the issues with the hospitals and law enforcement is all that can be done.

Working out these issues can help divvy up the responsibility and understand how to better serve the public without taking so much of a transport crunch.

"There should be a facility. No question," O'Connor said.

Still, what it boils down to is working with the resources the city does have.

"No question that we're transporting more," O'Connor said. "It's probably always going to be a work in progress."

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