A year after the administration of then-Gov. Joe Kernan proposed building a new Larue D. Carter Memorial Hospital, the future of Indianapolis' lone state-owned psychiatric hospital remains murky.
The Indiana State Office Building Commission bought an 18-acre site near the IUPUI campus in December 2004, during the waning days of the Kernan administration. State officials talked then about spending as much as $55 million to build a Larue Carter that would replace the existing hospital, which is part of an old Veterans Affairs complex on Cold Spring Road.
One year later, the site, on the south side of 16th Street west of Fall Creek, remains vacant.
Representatives of Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration say they agree Carter needs a new home. But they're still studying the issue and haven't made commitments.
"We don't see this as just a bricks-andmortar project," said Dennis Rosebrough, a spokesman for the state Family and Social Services Administration. "We think it's a great opportunity to develop a facility that incorporates the rapidly changing and evolving and improving treatment of mental health."
Mammoth operating costs and looming capital expenses prompted the state to look for a new home for Carter, Susan Williams, then the executive director of the State Office Building Commission, told IBJ a year ago. She said then that the state wanted a replacement for Carter opened by the end of 2007.
However, Rosebrough said FSSA has no timetable.
"Carter offers long-term, acute care for adults and children. It serves patients with low income levels or people who qualify for state assistance like Medicaid.
The Indiana University School of Medicine also performs clinical research at Carter and staffs it with seven physicians and six academic doctors, school spokeswoman Mary Hardin said.
A new hospital would still work with the medical school and place a heavy emphasis on research, Rosebrough said. But FSSA would like to broaden the range of care provided and explore partnerships to help run Carter and decide its direction.
"We're pretty certain that we want it to provide both intermediate as well as acute care," Rosebrough said. "But in which way, what form, what structure, who all the players will be ... those are all things that are very much in the negotiation and planning stages right now."
The hospital's new location also is unresolved. Rosebrough said the 18-acre plot is an option, "but we have not settled on that yet."
Carter currently occupies most of a 12-building complex owned by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The site opened in 1932 as a VA hospital, but Carter moved in about 10 years ago, when the state paid $10 million upfront for a 35-year lease.
The VA created a trust fund with that money and has used it to buy medical equipment and replace patient beds at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center on West 10th Street.
The state, which also has paid the utilities for the site, would not receive money back if it terminates the lease early, said Julie Jackson, a Veterans Affairs health systems specialist.
Jackson said her department hasn't talked with the state about Carter's future in nearly a year, but she hopes VA is included in future discussions.
"The state's been a very good partner with us; we've enjoyed our relationship with them," she said.
Mental health care has moved toward outpatient services and away from inpatient hospital stays over the past several years, said Stephen McCaffrey, president and CEO of the not-for-profit Mental Health Association in Indiana.
Even so, Carter still plays a vital role by providing beds for the most severe cases of mental illness and for people who need stabilization before they return to their community, McCaffrey said.
"We still need it," he said. "Larue Carter has played a very distinct role, not only providing inpatient services but focusing on research and some of the more difficult patients."
Larue Carter hospital has occupied its Cold Spring Road location for about 10 years.