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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