New West Chester Hospital hears cautionary tale
Lee Kraus shared the story this week of his first-born son, Justin, with the staff at Beckett Springs, a private West Chester mental health hospital that is scheduled to open its doors July 30.
He concluded by encouraging the staff to take the extra step to talk to one more person in each patient’s family. He said it could mean all the difference in providing that person with the appropriate long-term care.
He also said that it could save a life.A life like Justin Kraus’.
Justin was bright with a clean-cut image that allowed him to escape trouble from teachers at school. However, his family knew something was wrong by the time he was 16. At the dinner table, Justin would shake and his eyes would roll. His father said that he could tell that his son was extremely uncomfortable in his body. And when prescription medicine failed to control the anxiety, Justin turned to “street” drugs.
“His life inside his mind and inside his body was so dark and so full of anxiety that he would be literally crawling out of his skin,” Lee said. “He would constantly tell us that it was almost over because he couldn’t take it anymore.”
There were attempted suicides, several stays at mental health treatment facilities across the country and a history of drug abuse.
Then, in July 2010, Justin lost control. During an argument with his girlfriend, Justin punched holes in the walls of his Loveland apartment. The terrified girlfriend, who is also the mother of Justin’s young daughter, called Kraus.
After his father tracked him down at a nearby apartment complex, Justin opened up. He said that he was high on a handful of drugs. He needed help. He wanted help.
After admitting his son into a local hospital, Kraus pleaded with the doctor to give him a call before releasing Justin. He never heard back.
On Aug. 6, a few days after being released from a 72-hour stay, Justin overdosed on heroin and died at his parents’ Loveland home.
Justin was 23.
“If the communication was there at the last hospital, he might just be living today,” his father said. “It was very heartbreaking for our family to not have that communication.”
David Polunas, chief executive officer of Beckett Springs, hopes the message gets through and his hospital can help local families like the Krauses before it is too late.
“We specifically went out and interviewed physicians with the willingness, the verbal skills and the motivation to talk with families,” Polunas said. “One of our main focuses is staying in touch with the caregivers, so they are not getting lost in a black hole.”
The opening of the 48-bed, $10 million facility off Union Centre Boulevard should help meet the demand for mental health facilities. Beckett Springs, which will provide inpatient and outpatient care, will open with a staff of 85 employees, with the goal to grow to 150.
“We did a market analysis that determined that the Cincinnati market was underserved,” Polunas said. “Over the last 20 years there has been a significant decrease in funding for mental health. As opposed to being over-bedded, we don’t have enough beds.”
Nationally, across all publicly funded state hospitals, state governments have collectively cut $4 billion from their mental health budgets in the past four years. Further, states have lost between 8 percent and 9 percent of beds, according to the National Association of State and Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute.
The Ohio Department of Mental Health cut funding for public hospitals in its mental-service budget from $615 million in 2008 to $472 million in 2010. As part of that budget cut, the state closed three of its nine hospitals. Now, there are six publicly funded mental health facilities in Ohio. Summit Behavioral Healthcare, 1101 Summit Road in Roselawn, with 291 beds, is the only one left in Southwest Ohio.
Private hospitals like Beckett Springs and the Lindner Center of HOPE, which opened in 2008 in Mason, are trying to serve an under-served population.
“Any professional in the mental health field will tell you that there are huge gaps in service,” said Liz Atwell, executive director of Mental Health America of Southwest Ohio. “The overarching issue for the last couple of decades is that there is a significant need and not enough resources available.”