By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor

SPARTA – Saint Thomas Highlands Hospital has received the green light to add four beds to its existing at-capacity 10-bed geriatric inpatient psychiatric unit.

“We pretty much run at 90 to 95 percent capacity,” said Andy Wachtel, President and CEO of Saint Thomas Highlands, regarding the unit. “We were basically turning away patients every month.”

More than 49 million people in the US are aged 65 or older; accounting for 15.2 percent of the total population, according to the US Census Bureau.

The $350,000 expansion would allow Saint Thomas Highlands to further meet the local behavioral needs of that rapidly growing population segment by converting two rooms from the adjacent medical/surgical unit into senior care patient rooms. The new rooms will match the setup of the five existing semi-private rooms in the unit.

The project would add approximately 900 square feet to the geriatric unit without adding to the overall square footage of the hospital. By offering additional beds, the hospital hopes to be able to provide more geriatric patients the opportunity to receive care close to home.

“We’ve had this happen more than once where we can get them into a hospital over in Cannon County right away or they may have to wait a week or 10 days to go into the Highlands hospital,” Wachtel said. “And families will choose to wait. Not every time but sometimes they’ll say, ‘No, we’d rather have them close to home.’”

Final approval of the construction plans is still needed and no general contractor has been selected just yet but Wachtel says he’s hopeful construction will begin early next year.

“This is me just kind of reading the tea leaves right now but I would say that, conservatively, I would hope that (work is complete) by spring,” Wachtel said. “We’ve placed ourselves in a position to be open in late spring of next year.”

Earlier this year, the hospital completed a $125,000 renovation to its surgical and behavioral health departments – updating paint, flooring, cabinetry and workstations in those areas.

Saint Thomas Highlands is a 60-bed facility and provides 24-hour emergency care, intensive care, medical/surgical care, general surgery, orthopedics, gastroenterology, pulmonology, gynecological services, and a geriatric psychiatric unit; diagnostic imaging services including X-ray, CT, ultrasound and nuclear medicine; rehabilitation services including physical and occupational therapy and cardiac and pulmonary rehab.

“Our mission at Saint Thomas Health is 100 percent access to care for all patients, and the expansion of our senior care unit provides increased access to specialized care in rural areas for some of our most vulnerable patients,” Wachtel said.

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