New FSH could free space for sex-offender program

If a new maximum security facility is built at Fulton State Hospital (FSH), space will open up to expand a growing Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services (SORTS) program in one of the hospital’s current, safe and functional facilities.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is proposing an issuance of $198 million in an appropriation bond to pay for a new, nearly $211 million facility.

The sex offender program — “a civil involuntary commitment program for the treatment of sexually violent predators” — has 125 SORTS patients at the Southeast Missouri Mental Health Center in Farmington and 75 patients in FSH’s Guhleman Building.

Debra Walker, Department of Mental Health (DMH) spokeswoman, said the department receives an average of 17-20 SORTS commitments from the courts each year.

DMH Director Keith Schafer said at a January House budget committee hearing that the program will run out of space at Fulton and Farmington around 2017.

“We have to figure out if they can better be handled at another facility,” he said. “SORTS will be a manageable problem for two to three years, but not five years.”

The construction of a new maximum security facility at Fulton State Hospital would free up a second wing of the Guhleman Building to expand the SORTS program by 91 beds. Currently, Guhleman has two wings — one with 100 SORTS beds and one with 91 intermediate security psychiatric beds.

“If a new psychiatric facility is built, it will make room for both the maximum and intermediate psychiatric patients,” Walker said. “The wing of Guhleman which now has the intermediate security patients would be open then to expand the SORTS program.”

Because of unsafe conditions for workers at FSH’s high security Biggs Forensic Center, a new facility would allow Biggs to be vacated and demolished.

According to the Department of Mental Health (DMH), “due to the poor design of the Biggs facility, making line-of-sight supervision difficult, and due to the increasingly dangerous behaviors of the psychiatric patients at Biggs and Guhleman, employee overtime at FSH costs $3.7 million annually.” Worker compensation costs at the hospital are $4 million annually.

DMH has cited that it’s more dangerous to work at FSH than a Department of Corrections facility.

The construction of a new Fulton State Hospital facility is contingent upon legislative approval of the bond proposal from Gov. Jay Nixon, but some lawmakers say it’s unconstitutional.

State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said at a January House budget committee hearing that if a new FSH isn’t built, the state would need to build an $80 million SORTS facility, as well as catch up on other deferred maintenance needs.

The Office of Administration (OA) has singled out Fulton State Hospital for a new facility because the conditions are dire and the needs are immediate.

“Although there are other behavioral health facilities in the state that are in need of facility upgrades, the projects are structural in nature and none have conditions that are putting employees in constant danger like what is experienced at Fulton State Hospital,” said Ryan Burns, OA spokeswoman. “The Office of Administration continuously monitors conditions at all state-owned properties and as funding becomes available, we systematically address the highest priority facility needs.”

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