Fulton State Hospital workers protest to save jobs

Even though lawmakers have adjourned for the week, more employees from the Fulton State Hospital showed up at the Capitol Friday morning to demonstrate against the state's plans to lay off hundreds of people there.

About a dozen staffers from the Hearnes unit at Fulton State Hospital greeted people arriving for work at the capitol with signs of protest.

"Protesting and petitioning and just trying to make the community aware that, if three hundred jobs are lost in a small town like Fulton, ultimately it's gonna affect local businesses, FSH Nurse Brandy Branson said. And there may be no Fulton anymore.

Officials with the department of mental health say the plan to downsize FSH was on the books long before the current budget crisis, but the crisis accelerated the timetable.

"We have a $500 million hole in the budget, Pschyatric Services Director Mark Stringer said. We have to do what we can that causes minimum disruption to patients and their families.

That means getting out of the emergency care business, which Medicaid will not reimburse in a state hospital, but will in a private hospital.

Acute care programs at relatively new facilities in St. Louis and Farmington will be scrapped to open up beds for long-term care patients transferred from the much older Fulton State Hospital. By doing so, the state hopes to save more than seven million dollars a year.

"The seven million dollars in savings the department claims does not figure in the cost to the small town of Fulton. It doesn't figure in new Medicaid costs when we lose our insurance, AFSCME Political Director John Noonan said. And it certainly does account for the cost to the people when critical staff services are cut.

The mental health's department schedule calls for the first ward closures at Fulton to occur this coming September.

The remainder will occur in June of 2011.