Sen. Jerry Moran visits as many hospitals in Kansas as he possibly can — and believes he has visited them all at one time or another. Sept. 20 he visited Newton Medical Center, and saw unique things.
Moran stood in what looked like a nondescript office next to the Emergency Room and marveled a little.
“I have never seen this in a Kansas hospital,” Moran said.
He was standing in a new satellite office for the Newton Police Department. The office will not be manned full time, but will be a place that officers can do paperwork and get off the streets for a while. Deputy Chief Craig Dunlavy said the department plans to have someone there as much as possible while maintaining patrols in the city.
What was stark, and informative for the senator, was why that office now exists.
Since July, NMC Emergency Room staff has called the Newton Police Department 22 different times for help. Most often, that is to deal with psychiatric patients or patients that are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and have become disruptive, aggressive and violent.
According to NMC, in a three-month time period, 45 percent of psychiatric patients seen by the ER were sent home for “self-care,” another 44 percent were transferred to NMC's critical care unit or inpatient psychiatric unit — or a state psychiatric hospital.
Val Gleason, president and CEO of Newton Medical Center, told the story of a patient, who had already been disarmed twice, who was found with a switchblade trying to cut their armband off when a nurse entered their room a third time.
“Just last week we had a guy with a gun that was involuntarily committed here,” Dunlavy said. “In those cases, they have to wait here until there is an opening in Larned.”
Larned and Oswatamie have state funded mental health facilities — and Dunlavy told the senator that those facilitates are inadequate to deal with the need for services.
According to talking points distributed by Newton Medical Center, the ER has treated 116 patients with mental health, drug or alcohol issues in the last three months. The ER treats 1,200 patients each month.
“Unfortunately, we are here a lot,” Dunlavy said. “This give us a place to do some work. It feels like we are here all the time anyway. We have been here at least 50 times since the first of the year to deal with disturbances that the ER nurses have to deal with. That is at least twice a week.”
No one offered answers to how to fix the issue — or if there is a fix. Gleason said that the increase in psychiatric cases coming to the ER is due to the deterioration of psychiatric services across the state.
“This has been one of the most valuable hospital visits,” Moran said. “... We never get to cutting edge issues, and you were helpful today, particularly in the Emergency Room. That is something I had not thought about — the challenges you all face as the result of the changing nature of our society.”
Moran also visited the Newton Medical Center Wound and Hyperbaric Center, which is just the second accredited hyperbolic center in the state. He also visited the lab, which is believed to be the first lab to use an interactive, fully automated analyzer for blood transfusions.