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UW says it won't close psychiatric unit yet

FILE: University of Washington Medical Center
Flickr Photo/I-5 Design & Manufacture (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/
FILE: University of Washington Medical Center

The University of Washington Medical Center says it will build a new facility to replace an aging inpatient psychiatric unit that’s slated for closure.

Psychiatric beds are in short supply in Washington.

When news broke of the plans for the closure at UWMC there was concern. On average there are nine patients who stay about eight days at a time.

But now UWMC has announced it will keep the unit open until a new larger space is built.

Dr. Jürgen Unützer, professor and chair of UW Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said renovation would mean extensive work. The psychiatric unit at UWMC no longer meets updated regulatory standards set by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

"We've always wanted to really upgrade and invest in something better,” Unützer said. “As it turns out the best way to do that — to strengthen what we can offer — really is not to remodel this aging unit, but to build something better — a more state-of-the-art facility."

The new 12-bed unit will be built at Northwest Hospital.

One of the reasons for the slated closure is money. Traditionally in-patient psychiatric care doesn’t make any. But Unützer said the new facility will be more cost effective.

“When you operate something that serves nine patients they're fixed costs. You don't have economies of scale,” Unützer said.

The new unit he explains will add 12 new beds to the 27-bed unit already open at Northwest.

“We will be able to not only benefit from the support services we have there already, but we will get some efficiencies,” Unützer said.

The new facility could be open by the fall of 2019.