By CYNTHIA McCLOUD
For The State Journal
Renovation of the former United Hospital Center is ahead of schedule. Highland Clarksburg Hospital expects to open Phase 2 to forensics patients in December, a month earlier than anticipated.
Highland Hospital, an inpatient treatment facility for mental health and substance abuse based in Kanawha County, acquired the former UHC when that hospital relocated to a new facility off Interstate 79's Jerry Dove Drive exit.
Chief Operating Officer Eric Kennedy said Highland began a $34 million renovation in January 2013 funded by two principal loans: one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and one from Huntington Bank.
Kennedy said 30,000 square feet already is completed and it has 35 beds open for children and adolescents ages 5-17.
Highland Clarksburg has cared for 37 patients in its first 28 days of operation. "On average, we've had nine there a day," he said. "We're a short-term acute psychiatric crisis facility. Every day, patients are admitted and discharged."
Phase 2 is 115 beds for adult patients, of which 25 beds will be used for mental health services for veterans. Kennedy said the long-term goal is to partner with the Department of Veterans Affairs in providing that care. However, he said talks with the VA about a possible partnership are ongoing.
Fifty-five adult beds will serve forensics patients — those people in the state of West Virginia's criminal justice system who require mental health services.
Highland Clarksburg would serve "some who have perhaps failed the restoration process and longer-term patients of the state who are maybe determined not to be restorable," Kennedy explained.
Highland, one of few hospitals to provide specialized services to children, will expand its service area to the panhandles of West Virginia, western Maryland, eastern Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania.
"We don't find a heavy need for acute beds for children, but you also don't find that service in many places," Kennedy said. "You have to go to Pittsburgh before you can find beds that are located near the region."
The updates to the UHC infrastructure were minor.
"Mike Casdorph is our construction manager, and what he has always said is the facility, from a nuts and bolts standpoint, was in very good shape and built very well. It had some age on it and needed modernization," Kennedy said. "The extent of the renovation for us is some asbestos abatement and removal and bringing the facility up to ‘psych safe' standards.
"We know nationally in the U.S. that patients who harm themselves in facilities do so attempting to hang themselves," he said. "Our facility is designed so there are no door hinges. There's one continuous hinge and no opportunity to loop something over anything. The closets in the bathroom stick out from the wall and are sloped. The bath fixtures have all the piping covered and also have rounded edges.
"The other thing that helps is staff supervision," he said. "Patients who are in our facility are monitored continuously by staff who document every 10 minutes the location of the patient and the activities the patient participated in or completed."
The facility also brings jobs to north-central West Virginia.
So far, 75 people have been hired at Highland Clarksburg. Kennedy said he expects the hospital to employ 280, maybe more, when Phase 2 opens.
Highland Clarksburg has room to expand. The treatment facility will occupy 150,000 feet of the 450,000-square-foot building. The unused space is being maintained for current fire codes, Kennedy said.
"We finished out some floors to a certain degree for future growth potential, and some of it has been simply cleaned out and locked."