LANCASTER — An­tel­ope Valley Hospital’s men­tal health unit will be ex­panded and upgraded under a plan approved Wed­nesday by the Antelope Val­ley Healthcare District.

The mental health unit currently has 12 beds and the proposed renovation would increase that to 22.

Additionally, although the area across from the closed unit is licensed for acute psychiatric use, it requires renovation to meet patient safety standards, current psychiatric use code and to be a desirable location for an open mental health unit, according to the staff report. Renovating the area will allow for the additional 10 acute psychiatric beds.

“This gives us an op­por­tu­nity to create a very sig­nificant psychiatric pro­gram,” said Dr. Roger Gir­ion, Antelope Valley Hos­pital’s executive director of mental health services.

The addition will allow the program to increase the number of psychology interns from two to four.

“These interns provide psychotherapy for patients every day,” he said.

It will also provide the opportunity to market to private industry and physicians on the hospital’s own medical staff who don’t currently refer patients to the hospital’s mental health unit, Girion said.

“Expanding the unit will significantly improve the quality of our programs,” he said.

It also will allow the mental health unit to better accept patients through the emergency room, where the hospital is currently losing as much as $1.4 million per year without enough beds to meet the needs.

“This will give us an opportunity to change the payer mix significantly,” Girion said, with a contract pending with Kaiser to admit more mental health patients to Antelope Val­ley Hospital instead of sending them to a Los Angeles facility. This would “pretty much guarantee” an additional four to five patients a week, with payment rates significantly higher than Medicare.

“This would be better for the patients and better for the families,” he said.

Construction costs for the proposed renovations are estimated at $699,021.

In addition, the expan­sion will require additional staffing and supply costs of $1.125 million to $2.75 million annually.

However, with increased re­imbursement revenues of $2.8 million to $6.55 mil­lion, the net effect will be a gain of anywhere from $975,000 to $3.1 mil­lion, and an estimated gain of $1.4 million in the emer­gen­cy department, according to the staff report.

The board approved the construction costs and up to $2.75 million per year for operating costs on a 3-0 vote, with directors Dr. Phil Tuso and Dr. Abdallah Farrukh absent.

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