$90M VA Mental Health Center not safe for inpatients


There was a lot of hoopla about the new $90 million Mental Health Center at Bay Pines when it opened in September 2017.

Inspectors found problems at the new $90 million dollar Mental Health Center at Bay Pines.

It was supposed to provide inpatient psychiatric care for veterans. It doesn’t.

8 On Your Side has learned the VA thinks the Mental Health Center is just not safe enough yet.

Following inspections, the VA determined the facility does not meet safety standards that help prevent suicides by psychiatric patients.

How is it that a brand new facility can open at Bay Pines and not meet VA safety standards?

“That’s pretty interesting to me, too,” Congressman Charlie Crist, (D)-St. Petersburg, said. “I don’t understand it.”

The 3rd floor won’t house inpatients until suicide risks removed

When the VA activated the Mental Health Center in 2017, there was plenty of backslapping and handshakes.

“This has been a great day for the Bay Pines VA Health Care System,” then Bay Pines Director Suzanne Klinker stated.

Klinker was busting her buttons about the new Mental Health Center.

“It will provide for decades to come, outpatient, inpatient, and residential care for our America’s heroes,” Klinker said.

It provides mental health services for outpatients, it doesn’t provide inpatient or residential care for veterans.

According to Bay Pines, the problems with the Mental Health Center are not negatively impacting care for psychiatric inpatients.

When the building was opened, Bay Pines promised it would increase inpatient beds from 33 to 40.

That hasn’t happened.

Bay Pines maintains inpatient care for psychiatric patients is provided in other areas of the campus.

According to Bay Pines, there is no specific timetable for when the 3rd floor will open for inpatient care.

“During construction, the VA’s Mental Health Environment of Care Checklist was updated,” an email from Bay Pines spokesperson Selina Meiners stated. “The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System will begin moving patients into its 3rd-floor mental health inpatient units upon completion of several important construction updates underway to address new safety requirements, suicide prevention efforts and emerging risk factors.”

The added construction costs are estimated at $300,000.

“I want this thing to open as soon as possible but I want to make sure it is a safe environment for those who are being treated there,” Congressman Crist added.

If you know of something that you think should be investigated call our 8 On Your Side Helpline at 1 800 338-0808.

Contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com

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