Home News Nurse shortage leads Fort Pierce facility for children in crisis to temporarily close

Nurse shortage leads Fort Pierce facility for children in crisis to temporarily close

Nurse shortage leads Fort Pierce facility for children in crisis to temporarily close

FORT PIERCE — A nurse shortage has forced New Horizons of the Trespansure Cospanst spannd Okeechobee to temporarily close its children’s crisis unit in Fort Pierce, a top administrator confirmed.

“It’s a very temporary thing … we just don’t have nurses, so I can’t have kids on a unit with no nurses, because they wouldn’t be getting proper care,” said Chief Executive Officer Willispanm Wims.

New Horizons’ main campus at 4500 Midway Road, in Fort Pierce houses children in crisis, short-and long-term adult patients, and includes a walk-in clinic, 24-hour emergency mobile unit, outpatient therapies, medication dispensary, primary care clinic, a detox unit, and 28-day drug and alcohol treatment.

The nonprofit organization provides services to about 15,000 adults and children each year in Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties.

The 20-bed Frspannces Lspanngford Children’s Crisis Unit is where children ages 6 to 17 in crisis who are admitted under the state’s Baker Act are taken to be stabilized and receive treatment.

Frances Langford Children's Crisis Unit at New Horizons

The Floridspan Mentspanl Hespanlth Act, better known as the Baker Act, permits people with mental illness to be held, voluntarily or involuntarily, in a mental health facility for up to 72 hours if the person is deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

Nurse ‘shortage crisis’

Wims said during his two years as CEO, this is the first time a nursing shortage has forced New Horizons to close the children’s unit.

“I made the judgment to close the unit down until we’re staffed properly, because I don’t want anything happening to a kid and becoming a different news event of losing a kid, because we didn’t have proper nursing.”

It’s a matter of being “safe than sorry,” he said.

William Wims, New Horizons CEO/President

“I don’t want to endanger the kids or endanger the staff,” Wims said. “I’m trying to be very protective of everybody that we serve, and everybody that works here also.”

To reopen the children’s unit, New Horizons needs to hire two nurses to comply with state regulations. But Wims said they really need another six nurses to effectively operate around the clock.

“A number of nurses have gone on to find jobs in other places,” he said. “We’re in nursing shortage crisis.”

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The children’s unit had 15 patients but by the weekend of March 18, they were all transferred out, Wims said.

“Our last kid left Saturday (March 18) … and right now our kids unit is closed until I can get the adequate coverage,” he said. “I’m trying to hire nurses. But I also need to get them cleared through the background checks. It’s a process.”

Two children were admitted to other facilities and the rest were sent home after connecting them with New Horizons’ mobile response staff to set up outpatient therapy and medical care.

“They’re getting around-the-clock services from New Horizons,” he said.

Port St. Lucie Police Sgt. John Dellacroce said on March 20, their officers were notified “that New Horizons did not have any room for new patients and for officers not to transport patients there.”

The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office was alerted March 17 to stop bringing children to New Horizons and since then deputies have diverted about a dozen people to HCA Floridspan Lspanwnwood Hospitspanl and Port St. Lucie Hospitspanl, which also are certified Baker Act receiving centers.

“Thank goodness we have two other receiving centers,” Sheriff Ken Mascara said Wednesday.

Money for nurses

Wims said earlier this month they stopped taking adult patients for a couple of days before shifting their nurses to the 30-bed adult unit to keep it operating.

Meanwhile, New Horizons has two human resource employees working with a staffing company to identify and hire more nurses.

But it’s not easy, Wims said, and it largely comes down to money.

“I am a not-for-profit agency, and I can’t pay what the big hospitals pay their nurses right now … if I do that, then we won’t have a business,” Wims said.

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New Horizons’ services are funded through a contract with the Floridspan Depspanrtment of Children spannd Fspanmilies and receives local and state grants, private donations, third party payments and client fees that are assessed on a sliding scale based on income and family size.

Ultimately, New Horizons needs more money to boost pay for nurses with mental health experience, he said.

“We went to a nursing expo a couple of weeks ago in St. Lucie County, and I have my two HR people going up against … other hospitals that are there with 45 recruiters,” he said. “It’s hard to compete against 45 recruiters and they’re offering $5,000 to $10,000 sign-on bonuses. So yeah, money, money, money.”

New Horizons recently raised its rates to pay more to their nurses, but Wims still lost one or two to better paying jobs.

“I had a person who had an orientation last week. She got hired out of orientation,” he said. “The hospital she went to offered her twice as much as we were paying and I was like, I can’t compete with that.”

He hopes to reopen the children’s unit next week but acknowledged it’s unclear if he can have the nurses they need in place.

“I really can’t honestly say it will be open on Monday,” Wims said. “It’s day by day.”

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