Knoxville lawmakers discuss report on the potential need for a new mental health hospital in East Tennessee 

Published 10:51 am Monday, March 25, 2024

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KNOXVILLE – At a press conference Friday, Knoxville lawmakers announced a recently released report from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) on East Tennessee psychiatric hospital resources. The report is in response to an October 2023 letter from Lieutenant Governor McNally, Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), and Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) requesting the department conduct a study assessing the need to build a state inpatient psychiatric hospital to serve Knox County and the surrounding counties.

“The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is doing incredible work and has delivered on their commitment to provide mental health treatment services to our region since the closure of Lakeshore Mental Health Institute,” said Massey. “However, due to the growing mental health needs in our region, the current services simply aren’t enough. This report is a first step towards establishing a long-term plan to address the need for more resources and consider building a new inpatient psychiatric hospital in the Knoxville area.”

According to the report, the current staffed psychiatric hospital bed capacity in east Tennessee is below research-based standard minimums for the region’s population. Because the region is expected to continue to grow over the next decade this deficit will increase.

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“I would like to thank the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for issuing this comprehensive report,” said Lt. Governor McNally. “Their analysis reveals a clear and demonstrable demand for mental health assistance in East Tennessee. Now that we know there is a need, we can go about preparing to fill it. I look forward to doing all I can to work towards a solution so that all East Tennesseans in crisis can get the help they require.”

In 2011, the decision was made to close Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in Knoxville and shift resources to the existing strong community  behavioral health provider network and local hospitals. From Monroe to Johnson County, Lakeshore served 24 counties surrounding Knoxville and Upper East Tennessee. At the time Lakeshore closed, the daily census at Lakeshore was declining.

Now, Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute in Chattanooga is the closest state mental health facility. In Fiscal Year 2023, Moccasin Bend admitted 688 patients from the former 24-county region previously served by Lakeshore.

“This report underscores the need for increased mental health support in East Tennessee, and there is broad consensus that this is an important investment for our region,” said Sen. Briggs. “I appreciate the work of the Department of Mental Health for putting this report together, which will help inform us of the best direction to address the needs.”