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This item appeared in The Times & Free Press on Wednesday, March 8, 2000.

[Times & Free Press: Moccasin Bend Cuts on Track]

Moccasin Bend Cuts on Track

Staff Writer

A plan to close the long-term care building at Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute is moving forward, even as members of the institute's Board of Trustees gather support to try heading off the effort.

A state review team recently spent about 10 days assessing the 75 residents of the Winston Building to begin figuring out their needs and how those needs can be met in the community or in the main hospital facility.

Meanwhile, Board of Trustees Chairman Harry Ray mailed about 100 letters to government and law enforcement officials in the institute's 23-county service area, asking that they join the board in opposing the plan to close the Winston Building. So far, nearly half the letters have been returned with signatures of support.

"The support is gratifying and widespread," he said.

During a meeting Tuesday, board members questioned Elisabeth Rukeyser, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, about how the state will care for the chronically mentally ill who would be displaced by the closing of the Winston Building.

Under Gov. Don Sundquist's proposed 2000-2001 budget, the hospital's operating budget is cut by $1.6 million -- money that would be cut loose by the Winston Building closing. But $1.7 million will be used to expand local community-based mental health services to accommodate patients who are moved out of the hospital, Commissioner Rukeyser said.

"I'm absolutely committed to not dumping people," she said. "What we're proposing is forward funding. I'm not moving people out unless the money is there to start with."

That assurance didn't do much to quell board members' concerns about the plan to close the Winston Building by July 1, 2001.

"I have worked with nearly every community-based service in this area, and there was never quite enough money to support what they were supposed to provide,' said board member John Witherspoon. 'You're not going to provide enough money for them. If you did, this hospital will look inexpensive to operate."

And the good intentions of this administration easily could get lost in the next few years, leaving patients without the care they need, said board member Paul Starnes.

"Administrations come and go. There's no assurance the plan you're proposing would continue after the Sundquist administration," he said. "I served four terms in the Legislature, and I saw a lot of swinging doors."

The state will continue to assess patients and their needs and will go forward with the plan in coming weeks, Commissioner Rukeyser said.

"We're happy with the way that it's moving," she said.

Board members plan to take their concerns to local legislators to try and block the closing. Mr. Ray will mail legislators a letter listing the signatures of support he has received, and board members will meet with legislators next week in Nashville.

'I don't know what we can do other than put it in the hands of our legislators," Mr. Ray said. [an error occurred while processing this directive]
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