State proposal to close Lakeshore Mental Health Institute

The 125-year-old Lakeshore Mental Health facility in Knoxville could close in 7 months.   The state lined out a plan for patients, hundreds of employees, and the historic site.

Lakeshore Mental Health Institute sign directing visitors to Admissions and Human Resources Dept. (WVLT/Herb Goss)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The 125-year-old Lakeshore Mental Health facility in Knoxville could close in 7 months. That's what the commissioner of the Department of Mental Health proposes.

The state lined out a plan for patients, hundreds of employees, and the historic site.

Commissioner Doug Varney says it's not about money, it's about shifting patient care to where it's needed most, in the community.

The state Department of Mental Health has 5 facilities, but Varney is proposing to close the East Tennessee facility, serving 24 counties.

Commissioner Varney said, "It's really about reinvesting precious state resources and spending them in the way that's going to have the most impact."

Varney is suggesting Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, in West Knoxville, shut down in June.

"The closest remaining one would be Moccasin Bend hospital in Chattanooga," Varney said of the state facilities.

The state would partner with several private systems to continue state funded care for East Tennessee.

The in-patient partners are Peninsula Hospital of Knoxville, Woodridge Hospital of Johnson City, and Ridgeview Community Mental Health Services of Oak Ridge.

Varney said, "Even the inpatient services that we're going to buy in the community are much cheaper than what it costs to operate within a state facility."

Ben Harrington is the chair of the Board of Trustees of Lakeshore. He also serves as the Executive Director for the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee.

Harrington believes moving mental health care to the community could be good, but since the facility dates back to 1886, he hopes this location will be maintained.

Harrington said, "Fellow named Captain William Lyons bought the property, and his daughters ended up selling much of the property in the 1870's to the state."

The department pointed out that, in the 1970's, Lakeshore served around 2,300 patients a day. Currently there are up to 100 patients a day. All would be assessed and transferred.

But what happens to the 352 Lakeshore employees?

"So many of those employees really put their heart and soul into this and their reaction [Thursday] was, we're going to take care of the people we care for," said Harrington.

Varney said some will be offered transfers to other state facilities "Hopefully some of those can take positions within these private community programs that are going to care for these folks," he said.

Now the proposal will go before the Governor and General Assembly for a final decision. The proposal is part of the department's budget, so it has to be decided on by the end of the fiscal year, which is the end of June.

Lakeshore park, surrounding the facility has become a very popular place. The 17-acres are now owned by the City of Knoxville, and they say the park and its walking trails would remain.

The department of mental health plans to discuss with the city what to do with the buildings, if Lakeshore closes.

In response to the state's announcement, Covenant Health released the following statement.

“The Tennessee Department of Mental Health’s plan calls for continuation of services to former Lakeshore patients and their families through local, community-based behavioral health providers like Peninsula that are already well-established in our region. Peninsula has the capacity and expertise to accommodate most of Lakeshore’s patients, and we consider it part of our not-for-profit mission to extend services to these very vulnerable individuals within our community.”

“Peninsula’s 155-bed treatment center located in Louisville, Tennessee is one of the largest providers of inpatient behavioral services in the nation. Peninsula Outpatient Centers are centrally located in four counties and serve residents throughout East Tennessee. To the extent that Peninsula’s staff resources need to be expanded to better serve former Lakeshore patients and their families, we will, of course, give priority to displaced Lakeshore employees.”

Tony Spezia, President & CEO, Covenant Health
(Peninsula is a division of Parkwest Medical Center, a member of Covenant Health.)


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  • by Who cares on Dec 12, 2011 at 12:42 AM
    Sick heartless politicians ... All about money and looking good to the rich. Sure let them all out of lakeshore , loose running around west Knoxville . ha what a joke. Peninsula can't take all those people . Sick world and if crime rates start going up in Knox ... You know who to thank for that one .. Greedy heartless phony politicians. Makes me sick thinking about it
  • by Sarah Location: Knoxville, TN on Nov 17, 2011 at 09:14 PM
    This past summer, I became interested in the history of the institution and managed to scrounge up a little bit of information about it, though not nearly as much as I might like. I was hoping I be able to conduct more interviews and research - maybe even volunteer there - for a paper I'm in the process of writing (I am currently a senior in high school), though now, with all the turmoil surrounding Lakeshore, I doubt I'll be able to. My heart goes out to the employees and their families. They have done Knoxville and the surrounding areas a great service, and I am honestly horrified to think of what will happen in respect to patients if the facility is, indeed, shut down.
  • by anonymous Location: knoxville on Nov 17, 2011 at 09:33 AM
    I work at Lakeshore. I have been there for several years. We take patients on a regular basis that come from jail. That means that we take violent offenders and everything else that other facilities are not equiped to handle. Today, we had a meeting with Commisioner Doug Varney. We asked him what he planned to do with these people who have no where else to go. We house several sex offenders, psychotic and otherwise mentally ill. He offered no definitive solution. His proposal is to put them back in their community with little to no restrictions. This is an absolute outrage! These people are going to be left with no where to go, because private facilities like Peninsula and Ridgeview will not take these people. These are people who are accustomed to having rules and regulations. Put people like these out in our general public is a tragedy waiting to happen to the public and the patients. Doug Varney has said in his meetings with the Governor Haslem that we are basicly not needed. He said that he knew this from his experience at the Woodridge facility where he worked 30 years ago. He has never been to see the patients that we take care of every day. He has never toured the place. He generally has no idea the chaos that he is going to start.
  • by anonymous Location: knoxville on Nov 17, 2011 at 09:33 AM
    I work at Lakeshore. I have been there for several years. We take patients on a regular basis that come from jail. That means that we take violent offenders and everything else that other facilities are not equiped to handle. Today, we had a meeting with Commisioner Doug Varney. We asked him what he planned to do with these people who have no where else to go. We house several sex offenders, psychotic and otherwise mentally ill. He offered no definitive solution. His proposal is to put them back in their community with little to no restrictions. This is an absolute outrage! These people are going to be left with no where to go, because private facilities like Peninsula and Ridgeview will not take these people. These are people who are accustomed to having rules and regulations. Put people like these out in our general public is a tragedy waiting to happen to the public and the patients. Doug Varney has said in his meetings with the Governor Haslem that we are basicly not needed. He said that he knew this from his experience at the Woodridge facility where he worked 30 years ago. He has never been to see the patients that we take care of every day. He has never toured the place. He generally has no idea the chaos that he is going to start.
  • by JoeBlow Location: knox on Nov 14, 2011 at 04:12 PM
    Well it's like this. I know poeple who work at lakeshore and i get to hear about the government cutbacks all the time. Seems every year they get downsized a little bit more.Nw peninsula has room for indigent patients and funding for 2 weekds a month before their grants run out. Then lakehsore become crowded again. What happens when lakeshore isn't around. Where do the patients go.. Remember peninsula is private which is a term called proffit..There is no proffit in, " I have no money, no job and no insurance." Then Peninsula says no.....Peninsula made the same claim when lakeshore's childrens and youth program was shut down 10 yrs ago. Try to get a sicj child in ther for help. The only way for the poor parents to get help is to sign their kids over to dcs to get them help.. Well hate to tell ya there is no dcs for an adult and adult protective services don't care.
  • by BERNA Location: KNOXVILLE on Nov 13, 2011 at 03:57 PM
    It will be interesting to see how the Lakeshore property gets smoothly (corruptly) transferred into some politician's development company (Holrob for example). The people of Knoxville should petition the state to make a city park instead of the next housing community for the rich!!!
  • by dolphin Location: greeneville on Nov 12, 2011 at 07:59 PM
    I think it is very sad. I'm sure this will be a big upset to the people. It seems unfair to shut it down and move them. They are people, they have feelings. Something in their life made them snap it could happen to you or someone in your family. Think about it this place is the only home they know. Would you want to be told to leave your home for good? They are comfortable there, it could cause a set back on all the progress that they had made. May God give them comfort and peace.
  • by trotterrn on Nov 12, 2011 at 01:28 PM
    How are these other facilities going to take care of the mentally ill? Medicare is making cuts, no funding is available and staffing is being cut. Not to mention some facilities are not skilled for the mentally ill. Then you have the patients out on the street and not taking their meds! This spells disaster for Knoxville.... If only the government would worry about the people and not themselves.
  • by concern citzen Location: knoxville on Nov 11, 2011 at 06:12 PM
    Yea buddy let me explain this so everyone can understand. When they transfer these patient's and i mean hundreds of patients you are taking a risk of them gettin loose,then that means what? You have dangerous killers in lakeshore right now that have killed alot of people! What happens if they get out? Let's just say knoxville will never be the same. Plus they will be letting some patients out on meds. Well what happens when some come off there meds because there insurance want pay for it. So lets ask the governor what will happen? Are they willing to put other people in danger to save them some money? Just for them to blow it on new cop cares are somthing else we don't need!
  • by Karen Location: Knoxville on Nov 11, 2011 at 11:35 AM
    So there will be more on the street like the man accused of killing the waitress claiming he got off his meds. Not good!

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