Feb 16, 2017 - By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff WriterThe reconstruction of the Wyoming Life Resource Center is set for approval by Gov. Matt Mead after the Senate passed a funding bill for the Lander facility and the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston.
Drawings for the construction will be completed this year, when a legislative task force will also take bids and select contractors.
Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, who sits on that task force, said construction is expected to begin in 2018.
The WLRC's current focus is handling mentally disabled patients, but the reconstruction will re-prioritize some sections to handle clients who have transferred out of the state hospital. The plans also call for increased care for those with acquired brain injuries who manifest exceptionally difficult behaviors, geriatric psychiatric patients and high-needs medical clients, as well as those who are "hard to place" or are in need of emergency placements.
The upgrades will allow the campus to have 110 beds, which could allow WLRC to nearly double its current population.
Much of the central campus will be demolished and replaced with three "neighborhoods" of cottages between Meadowview Drive and Center Street. One of those neighborhoods will serve the current mentally-disabled population, with new clients served in the other two.
The state had at one point considered separating the reconstruction of the two facilities into two projects, completing the Wyoming State Hospital first.
Given the economic downturn which led to major cuts to the Department of Health this session, some had worried that legislators would delay the reconstruction of the WLRC.
The funding bill didn't face much opposition from legislators, but Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, did argue that it was premature to reconstruct the WLRC while concerns of management of the facility linger.
The facility has had 10 different superintendents in just the last four years.
"I am concerned that there is a systematic problem with the management of that outfit," Scott said, noting the complaints "regarding medical treatment from the guardians of the residents there."
On May 22, a patient at the Wyoming Life Resource Center took a three-wheeled bicycle and rode it down the facility's driveway, then onto Highway 789 in an attempt to kill himself by riding into an oncoming tractor-trailer combination.
The truck driver avoided the wreck, and security drove down to the highway, directing traffic with flashing lights until the patient was safely recovered.
A week prior, the same patient had attempted to run away and had fled all the way down to the entrance gate before employees were able to convince him to return.
At the time of the bicycle incident, the patient was supposed to be receiving rigorous one-on-one supervision. Yet the employee assigned to watching him left him unsupervised in a running car. And though witnesses said the patient could have been easily stopped before reaching the highway, no one intervened.
Staff said they weren't sure what to do -- the hospital had never trained them on how to handle such situations.
The next day, the Department of Health and Human Services came to Lander for a five-day probe into the hospital, ultimately concluding that neglect, and the managerial failures to stop it, had repeatedly put the lives of patients in danger.
The center was immediately required to develop policies and procedures to remedy the "immediate jeopardy situation," noting that in the prior two months, employees had not adequately reported abuse and neglect.
On multiple occasions during that period, patients had managed to get access to unallowed food, leading to multiple choking incidences that occasionally led to loss of consciousness.
HHS also found that staff was not properly administering end-of-life medication -- like morphine -- that's used to comfort patients.
In one situation, a review of a recently deceased patient found that that patient was given twice as much morphine as had been prescribed.
A few months after the report was done, HHS completed another study, and WDH director Tom Forslund said in an email to staff that the facility was now in "substantial compliance with Federal requirements."
During HHS's investigation, employees at the WLRC said many of the problems had arisen from short-staffing.
Sen. Cale Case, a Lander Republican who's the guardian of a WLRC patient, acknowledged that there were legitimate concerns over the facility's management but said the it's still "one of the most fabulous places in the entire world."
"There is no other place where people with these levels of needs have achieved such a long and wholesome life," he said.
Case said that the facility suffered last spring under Mead's budget reductions. The WLRC faced an 11 percent funding cut, creating a "management disconnect" that reduced the "emphasis on what's called active treatment."
"The Life Resource Center did get caught up in the cost-cutting that occurred after we left last time," Case said. "I think there was a problem with priorities in the Department of Health. We brought that to the attention of the governor and ... we have seen definite improvements."
Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, pushed for the approval and said delaying needed construction wouldn't help improve management. He noted that "we need to continue to be working on the problems because those people deserve the best care."
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