Officials are looking at using a portion of the state's share of federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to fund the rebuild of the government psychiatric hospital complex situated on the banks of the Tennessee River. (Chattanooga Times Free Press photo)
Tennessee's 60-year-old Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute in Chattanooga would undergo a massive, $276.52 million renovation under a plan presented by Gov. Bill Lee's administration to state lawmakers.
Officials are looking at using a portion of the state's share of federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to fund the rebuild of the government psychiatric hospital complex situated on the banks of the Tennessee River, according to a Nov. 16 story in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The Lee administration's plans include constructing several new buildings, boosting the number of beds from 165 to 200 and increasing space to conduct assessments of patients.
"We know that Moccasin Bend serves the most intensive care and treatment for [adult] patients struggling with mental health," Marie Williams, commissioner of the state's Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services said before members of Lee's Financial Stimulus Accountability Group. "We are really hoping what these dollars can be used for is the [institute's] rebuild."
Moccasin Bend is the state government's only east Tennessee regional facility and serves 52 counties. Tennessee's three other mental health institutes are in Nashville, Bolivar and Memphis. A fifth center was based in Knoxville before closing in 2012.
The Chattanooga facility first opened by the scenic river 60 years ago. It has served more than 2,400 clients during Fiscal Year 2021 and, as of Oct. 31, Moccasin Bend also employed 459 full-time staff and workers.
According to the Times Free Press, Williams hopes that with a more modern facility, Moccasin Bend would be able to do the following:
- Implement more modern treatment methods.
- Allow more space for patients and staff to safely offer social distance for infectious patients while reducing anxiety and tension caused by such close quarters.
- Keep patients and staff safe by offering more interior space as well as more frequent access to outdoor areas.
- Effectively protect patient confidentiality by removing visitor rooms from each treatment unit.
- Operate a facility built under the "most current health care facility design and construction guidelines."
Questions Need Answers Before Renovation
Tennessee is expected to see an estimated $3.88 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act aid flowing into state coffers, funding passed by Congress in March, despite no Republican votes.
Tennessee's Financial Stimulus Accountability Group members include top Lee administration officials, in addition to the state House and Senate speakers, and two key Chattanooga area lawmakers: Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain and Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, the respective chairs of the House and Senate finance committees.
In response to questions from House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, about accelerating the pace of patient assessments, Williams said plans are to build a new facility with more rooms to assess people with better technology.
Hazlewood said she was pleased that the plan would allow Moccasin Bend to boost its ability to assess incoming patients.
"The senator [Watson] and I really hope we do this," Hazlewood told Williams during the recent hearing. "We've been advocating that for a while."
Still, the Chattanooga news source reported Hazlewood had concerns about construction costs and questioned whether the state might look at alternative construction methods for design and delivery of the building projects with private sector contractors.
Watson, a physical therapist who works for HCA Healthcare, asked what the price comparisons were for the state's operation of Moccasin Bend compared to the private sector in terms of cost per bed and whether the state was operating the facility more efficiently than the private sector.
"While I get building a new facility and stuff, does the private sector have a space to play in this?" Watson asked.
Williams said her department has been meeting with private sector representatives on what they can and cannot do.
"What I can tell you is our costs still remain some of the lowest in the industry," she said. "Part of that is because our TennCare reimbursement rate is so low. It's lower than any other mental health hospitals, and that's what sort of brings us in at a lower cost per patient."
Williams noted that in contrast, the Memphis Mental Health Institute has a higher cost per patient.
"But chairman, I'd say for Moccasin Bend, when you compare it to other private facilities, whether it's Acadia or St. Thomas or Vanderbilt, because we've been in conversations with those, you will know that we're able to run [Moccasin Bend] comparably."
Williams said that with legislative approval, the state expects design and pre-planning on the rebuilding of Moccasin Bend Mental Health Facility to begin in Fiscal Year 2022-23. Construction would then commence in FY 2023-24 and continue into FY 2024-25.
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