Health Care

105-bed KC psychiatric hospital to close; 129 employees losing jobs

Two Rivers Behavioral Health System, a 105-bed private psychiatric hospital in southeast Kansas City, will close Feb. 9.
Two Rivers Behavioral Health System, a 105-bed private psychiatric hospital in southeast Kansas City, will close Feb. 9. amarso@kcstar.com

A private psychiatric hospital in southeast Kansas City is closing, resulting in 105 fewer mental health beds in the city and 129 laid off employees.

Two Rivers Behavioral Health System, 5121 Raytown Road announced it will close Feb. 9 — at a time when both Kansas and Missouri are dealing with shortages in mental health care.

“We have arranged for the safe and seamless discharge or transition of all patients,” said the announcement on the Two Rivers website.

Two Rivers CEO Greg Shannon said Friday that the hospital had stopped taking new admissions but declined to answer further questions, including how many of the 105 beds were already full and where the current patients are going.

Two Rivers, owned by Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Services, treats both children and adults. It had 2,347 discharges in 2017 and brought in almost $28 million in revenue, but had a net loss of about $3.4 million, according to the American Hospital Directory.

“For over 30 years, Two Rivers has been privileged to provide acute psychiatric services to patients in the Kansas City, Missouri area,” the website announcement read. “Our main focus has always been on our patients and their success. We have served thousands of patients and their families, providing treatment and services for a wide range of psychiatric illnesses and addiction issues.”

The care provided at Two Rivers has periodically drawn scrutiny from journalists, labor unions and regulators.

In a story published in The Pitch in 2000, a patient and a psychologist who worked there said some counselors were validating patients’ “recovered memories” of being victims of satanic cults, years after such cults had been shown to be largely myths.

A report by the Service Employees International Union alleging under-staffing in Universal Health Services facilities nationwide spotlighted two incidents at Two Rivers that both happened in March 2011: a patient who was a registered sex offender assaulted another patient, and a patient whom staff failed to check on committed suicide. The facility temporarily lost its Medicare certification after the second incident.

During the facility’s most recent state inspection, in August, inspectors said Two Rivers had failed to provide a safe environment for six patients considered suicide risks. The patients had unsupervised access to the nurses’ station, as well as access to pens that could have been used for stabbing and a charging cord that could have been used for strangulation. Two Rivers submitted a plan to fix the deficiencies. At the time of the inspection there were only 19 patients in the hospital.

Two Rivers’ closure comes at a time when Kansas City and other communities across the country are facing shortages of psychiatric beds, especially for children.

Providers in other parts of the Kansas City metro area are increasing their capacity to meet some of that demand.

Signature Psychiatric Hospital announced in March that it was adding 12 beds to the 24 it already operates at North Kansas City Hospital and opening a 36-bed wing at Liberty Hospital. That same month, the University of Kansas Health System announced it had purchased a former federal office building in downtown Kansas City, Kan., and planned to turn it into a 47-bed mental health facility.

Those renovations are expected to be done later this year.

Mark Stringer, the director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, said it’s getting harder for private, freestanding psychiatric hospitals like Two Rivers to make it financially, in part because of nursing shortages. They’re not subsidized like state mental hospitals, and they can’t lean on other departments for staffing help like psych facilities inside general medical centers.

Stringer said community-based outpatient mental health centers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and better able to keep people from needing a psychiatric bed in the first place. But not enough to meet the demand.

“There is a general worry about the availability of psychiatric services for people in crisis; there’s just no doubt about that,” Stringer said. “The loss of beds certainly hurts.”

Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.
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