Area vets seek behavioral hospital

U.S. HealthVest Vice President Stacie York on Wednesday presents details of the psychiatric hospital proposed for Newnan to representatives of veterans groups from Coweta and Fayette counties. Also pictured are Coweta Commission of Veterans Affairs co-chairs Joe Brooks, L, and Malcolm Jackson. Photo/Ben Nelms.

The Coweta Commission of Veterans Affairs (CCVA) hosted a meeting Wednesday that brought representatives from Coweta and Fayette counties and a number of interested parties together to address the recent state denial of the proposed Newnan Behavioral Hospital. Veterans were adamant that such a facility is needed locally.

The certificate of need (CON) submitted by U.S. HealthVest was recently denied by the Ga. Dept. of Community Health and the appeal process is currently underway. The appeal will likely be heard in the spring, said U.S. HealthVest Vice President Stacie York.

The proposal to locate the facility in the old Newnan Hospital on Hospital Road would have the psychiatric hospital serving an area that includes Coweta, Fayette, Heard, Troup and Meriwether counties.

CCVA co-chair Malcolm Jackson told the two dozen in attendance that the purpose of the meeting was to determine the needs of veterans, significant numbers of whom across America suffer from issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and would benefit from having a local facility rather than having to travel to Villa Rica or Columbus for services.

“We need to have this hospital and we need to get around to serving the veterans in our community,” Jackson said.

York in providing an overview of the proposal said the acute care psychiatric hospital would be geared to provide in-patient and out-patient, emergency and walk-in services.

York noted that various Coweta County professionals in the field sent 75 letters of support in recommending that the CON be approved. Once the CON was denied, U.S. HealthVest appealed the decision, as did the Coweta County and Newnan governments. York said it is unusual to have a city and county government issue an appeal.

“We’re humbled to have community support for the hospital,” said York. It was also noted that Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce President Candace Boothby recently voiced the chamber’s support for the hospital. “We’re humbled that the city and the county appealed the decision.”

CCVA representatives at the meeting asked the number of vets and others at the meeting to provide input on the need for the hospital.

An audience member asked the Veterans Administration protocol if a local veteran suffers a mental crisis. Others in the audience answered, saying the vet is required to be admitted to facilities in Columbus or Villa Rica.

Weighing in on the topic, Coweta County Sheriff Mike Yeager outlined the current procedure required when a vet experiencing a psychiatric crisis is picked up by deputies. If determined by medical staff after an initial evaluation that involuntary admission to a facility is needed, a deputy must transport the vet to Columbus.

“We’ve had several of these on given days. Three to five deputies on the road to Columbus and back. It can be 6-8 hours before a deputy is back in the (Coweta) community,” Yeager said. “One of the biggest mental health providers in Georgia are county jails. And counties and taxpayers foot the bills.”

Asked if the Newnan Behavioral Hospital could provide an effective substitute for the Columbus facility, York said it could while providing an expedited admissions process.

York during the discussion also noted that the hospital would accept admissions regardless the ability to pay. Her comment was in response to a statement by Coweta VFW and American Legion representative Glenn Flake who explained that the community is home to a number of vets who have limited funds. Others said another problem with treatment is the distance required to drive for needed services.

Continuing the topic, Jackson said that for some veterans, “If they can’t make the trip they can’t get the treatment.”

Coweta County Commission Chairman Bob Blackburn in a statement said the county was very disappointed with the CON denial.

“We believe there is great demand for this type of facility. The specialized services would be a perfect fit and the citizens support it,” Blackburn said.

Also in attendance was Rep. David Stover, who has introduced a bill that would pave the way for the new hospital. Stover said the language in the bill adds only two words to the existing CON process. Stover explained that the current process requires no CON for state hospitals. His bill would add the words “and private” so that providers such as U.S.HealthVest could start up services unobstructed. The bill is opposed by the 170-member Ga. Hospital Association, Stover said, referring to the association as a “protected monopoly.” Stover said what might become of the bill as written remains to be seen.

Asked by veterans what they could do to assist in the appeal process, volunteer Robert Hancock said what is needed are the personal stories of two local veterans who could act as witnesses and speak from personal experience on the need for a psychiatric hospital in the local area where none exists today. Hancock said he can be contacted at 678-251-4646.

Studies indicate that 25-50 people per 100,000 will need the services of a psychiatric hospital. With a proposed 60-bed hospital, the facility would easily accommodate the five county service area, York said.

Though a new company, York said the leadership within U.S. HealthVest has a background in running psychiatric hospitals and has a combined 200 years of experience providing those services.