NMHI’s hospital scores furniture

Lack of funds, lack of furniture—and finally, a lack of the right kind of fire doors—kept NMHI’s new hospital empty for nearly a year.

Lack of funds, lack of furniture—and finally, a lack of the right kind of fire doors—kept NMHI’s new hospital empty for nearly a year.

Photo By David Robert

Finally. The Nevada Mental Health Institute will begin moving patients into its “new” (1-year-old) hospital Sept. 17. Actually, only about half of the 90-bed hospital will open—one 40-bed pod and the Psychiatric Emergency Service unit, with its 10 beds.

It was nearly complete when the local media was invited in to take a tour. That was a year ago. At that time, NMHI’s bright new replacement for the crusty, outdated hospital (still in use as of this writing) was expected to open in the early part of 2001.

Construction began on the $10 million facility in October 1999, and the hospital was completed ahead of schedule. When the RN&R started asking last spring why the new hospital hadn’t opened yet, administrators and Sen. Randolph Townsend told us that the hold-up was due to a lack of furniture. Surely by May, we were told, the new Dini-Townsend Hospital would be bustling with business.


Carlos Brandenburg, director of Nevada’s Division of Mental Health & Development, said this week that the hospital lacked operating funds to open last spring. What they were really waiting for was some money from the state legislature.

“When they were in session, they gave us the money to actually open the hospital on July 1,” Brandenburg said. Happy administrators began planning an August opening. They brought around the fire inspector to take a look. But the building didn’t pass inspection as planned.

“The fire marshal said, ‘Nope, I can’t sign you off. You have the wrong kind of doors there,’ “ Brandenburg said.

The building’s contractor finished fixing the doors two weeks ago.

“The joke I always make is, what the private sector does in a week takes the public sector six months,” said Joe Tyler, president of the Northern Nevada chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

Brandenburg said that all the hospital’s stakeholders have been frustrated with the delays. But they’re all delighted to see the hospital finally opened.

“Even though we spent some money revamping the old hospital, it was dark and dreary,” Brandenburg said. “[The new hospital] is very airy and open. It has a lot of high ceilings, indirect lighting and open nursing stations that make it conducive to a therapeutic environment by allowing interaction between staff and patients.”

The opening of the hospital is only one of the troubles that NMHI has faced recently. There was a reported staff psychiatrist turnover rate of 200 percent during the past year at the facility. Some say the staff shortages are reaching crisis proportions. Nine psychiatrists have resigned or been asked to leave in the past year or so. Two medical directors have left NMHI in about the same amount of time. Also last spring, state auditors found that NMHI had failed to bill Medicare for some $650,000. Auditors were critical of the institute’s lax billing and collection procedures.