St. Luke’s Behavioral Healthcare to close

Published 12:12 pm Monday, March 16, 2020

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Last year, only 18 percent of St. Luke’s Hospital’s Inpatient Gero-Psychiatric Unit patient days were utilized by those who live in Polk County. Many of the patients who receive care in the Gero-Psych Unit come to St. Luke’s from long distance locations. For most behavioral health patients, it costs more to treat them than insurance or other programs will pay, resulting in long-term financial loss for the department. After considering this crucial information combined with additional extensive reevaluation and analysis over an extended period of time, St. Luke’s Hospital has made the very difficult decision to close their Inpatient Gero-Psychiatric Unit effective April 17, 2020. St. Luke’s remains focused on the major goal of providing exceptional care to those living in and around Polk County, North Carolina. 

St. Luke’s will continue to be part of the solution for behavioral healthcare locally and nationally by continuing to offer their Intensive Outpatient Psychiatric service, Senior Life Solutions, an active center that supports senior behavioral health. They are focusing efforts on continuing to grow this important outpatient care delivery site. It is their hope that they are able to prevent patients from needing an inpatient level of care by offering an effective outpatient program and are confident that they have potential to care for a larger number of patients in Polk County and surrounding communities with this outpatient option. 

“It has been an honor and a privilege to help those in crisis situations during a time when our country has experienced a behavioral healthcare shortage,” said CEO Michelle Fortune. “Recent leadership changes in our Gero-Psych team placed us in the position of needing to recruit. For most behavioral health patients, it costs more to treat them than insurance or other programs will pay. Because of this, combined with premium salaries required to retain experienced behavioral health professionals and the ever-increasing cost of regulatory compliance, we can no longer sustain the types of losses we have been incurring without jeopardizing other areas of care. The decision to discontinue this inpatient service is not one we take lightly or have made easily.”

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St. Luke’s has contacted nearby facilities with similar Gero-Psych units and have been pleased to learn that some have capacity, so the closure will mean a redirection to other resources. For teammates who are employed in the Gero-Psych Unit, the announcement in advance of the impending closure allows time for them to evaluate other job opportunities internally and externally. The hospital’s Human Resources Department is working closely with these team members to identify any available internal opportunities requiring their skill sets.

Leadership at St. Luke’s is using this transition to also assess further needs of the community and ways that the hospital might be able to expand care in areas where there is a larger need for services that could be viable for the long term. St. Luke’s Hospital’s goal is to ensure the hospital network remains strong, effective and available for future generations.  

“Allowing large financial losses to continue in a unit that serves a patient population largely from other areas may impede our ability to provide care that is needed by a broader group here in our own backyard,” explained CEO Michelle Fortune. “As a nurse myself, this situation is truly heartbreaking. We always want to provide care to every patient and meet every need, but there are times that a small facility like ours must focus on what it does well for the long term, so it can thrive in that arena. Our not-for-profit critical access hospital treats patients regardless of their ability to pay, and that comes at a very large cost. Last year, the uncompensated care we provided was valued at more than three million dollars. To continue providing emergent and urgent care to neighbors in need sometimes means a reevaluation of our services.” 


Referrals to Senior Life Solutions can be made by anyone, including a patient’s physician, family member or other healthcare professional. Senior Life Solutions is located at 50 Hospital Drive, Suite 2B, Columbus, NC. To make a referral, please call 828-894-9890. 


Submitted by Michelle Fortune