Nixon outlines plan for new mental hospital

FULTON, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced Monday he wants to issue bonds to pay for improvements to a state mental health facility, where the wards are “cramped, loud and deteriorating” and have led to injuries to patients and staff.

Speaking at the Fulton State Hospital, Nixon said the budget he’ll propose for next fiscal year will include a “strategic bond issuance” to build a new maximum and intermediate security facility at the hospital. Officials have estimated it will cost about $211 million.

“There’s just no question that we have a moral responsibility to these patients and their caregivers. It transcends politics, it goes beyond economics,” Nixon said. “This is a need that hits at the very core of our duty as a civilized society. As these walls continue to crumble, our conscience demands that we do better.”

The Fulton State Hospital has Missouri’s only maximum security psychiatric facility, and patients include those committed by the courts for evaluation and treatment. It also is the statewide treatment facility for people who have been found not guilty or unable to stand trial because of mental disease.

The hospital, about 30 miles northeast of the Capitol, is the oldest public mental health facility west of the Mississippi River. Its first patients were admitted in 1851.

Among the facilities housing patients is the maximum security Biggs Forensic Center, the intermediate security Guhleman Forensic Center and the Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services.

Mental health officials have proposed demolishing Biggs and several other buildings and constructing a new 300-bed high-security facility to house patients from Biggs and Guhleman. It would free beds for the Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services. The oldest portion of Biggs was built in 1937.

Missouri’s budget that took effect in July includes $13 million to design a new facility at Fulton. Nixon initially froze the money while citing fears the Republican-led Legislature would override his veto of an income tax cut. After the override attempt fell short, Nixon released $2 million in September. The governor said Monday he’s releasing the remaining $11 million.

Nixon said his proposal would require support from the Legislature to include it in the budget but not from voters. The House this year considered a proposal to issue $1.2 billion of bonds, which would have included money for the hospital and required voter approval.

Nixon said the Fulton State Hospital warrants specific consideration and that Missouri has been paying off its debts. The governor said his proposal would be “an appropriation bond” and that there are other examples of projects using the method, including for a prison and an office building.

“It is clearly a mechanism that has been used in the past, and I think is appropriate for a project of this magnitude at this time,” Nixon said.

However, a supporter of the House bonding measure said Monday that Nixon’s proposal is unconstitutional. Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said the governor is proposing to use revenue bonds, which are to be used for a revenue-producing facility. He said past practice is not justification.

“I’ve been trying to do this for six years. The fact that Nixon has now become interested in the hospital is not a basis to violate the constitution,” Kelly said.

A Senate committee responsible for reviewing Missouri’s capital improvement needs has listed the hospital as the top priority.

“We are happy to see the hospital will also be a priority for the governor,” said Sen. David Pearce, who led the Senate committee. “We look forward to working with him and his staff on this major and much-needed project.”

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