New State Hospital project in limbo in North Dakota Legislature

Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun, N.D.
·3 min read

Feb. 23—Plans to construct a new North Dakota State Hospital are in limbo at the North Dakota Legislature, according to Rosalie Etherington, hospital superintendent.

The House Appropriations Committee voted down an authorization to construct a new State Hospital on Jan. 27, instead voting to conduct another study of the project and what would happen to the existing State Hospital facility.

Rep. Randy Schobinger, R-Minot, introduced the amendment to authorize construction of the new State Hospital by referencing the things he saw during a tour of the facility two years ago.

"These folks are the most vulnerable among us and we care for them in a building built in the late 1800s," he told the House Appropriations Committee.

He also referenced the challenges the staff of the State Hospital faces saying, "These folks are providing 2021 care in an 1800s facility."

Etherington said the governor's budget for the Department of Human Services provided for authorization for a private company to build a new State Hospital building and then lease it to the state of North Dakota based on studies done after the 2019 legislative session.

"We walked into the session with studies and recommendations," she said. "We learned more study was wanted."

Comments by the House Appropriations Committee centered around what would happen to existing buildings at the State Hospital.

A fact sheet prepared by the North Dakota Department of Health and presented by Schobinger said the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would utilize the LaHaug Building for a medium-security men's prison. The LaHaug Building is the newest on the State Hospital campus and was completed in 1984.

Etherington said the Department of Human Services would retain the use of the cottages on the campus for student housing and transitional living for some patients exiting State Hospital programs.

Other buildings would be demolished under the plan.

"One building has been condemned since the middle 1990s," she said. "The chapel has been unused since the middle 1990s. It is in poor condition and there is concern it might collapse."

Even demolishing buildings that are currently condemned or failing is subject to budget constraints, Etherington said.

"If funding is available, we may demolish some buildings this year," she said.

Etherington said the existing State Hospital campus has a long list of maintenance projects totaling about $148 million.

"About $48 million in fairly urgent maintenance on the backlog," she said. "If we can find funds we'd do some repairs and we are requesting some flexibility to do emergency repairs."

The fact sheet presented by the Department of Human Services said the state of North Dakota would not occur any additional costs by leasing a new State Hospital building from a third party and could possibly avoid some of the deferred maintenance costs associated with continuing to use the existing campus.

Crossover, the time when bills move from one house to the other in the North Dakota Legislature, is this weekend. The Human Services budget, and the authorization for a new State Hospital facility, will now be heard in the Senate.

"Our next step is to present our information in the Senate Appropriations Committee," Etherington said. "We plan to seek authorization to build the new State Hospital there."

If the Senate authorizes the project, a conference committee would work out the differences between the versions of the bill passed in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.

Plans call for a request for proposals for the new State Hospital construction project this spring with construction beginning in the spring of 2022, Etherington said.

"We would not just be building a hospital for in-patient care," she said. "The drug treatment and sex offender programs would be included. We'd like to consider moving the Human Services Center to the campus."

The Human Services budget, House Bill 1012, has not been scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee at this time.