The Capital Area Human Services District is focused on keeping a mental health emergency unit operating on LSU’s Earl K. Long campus after the hospital closes next year.

The unit cares for those in crisis with mental problems because they are considered a danger to themselves out of private hospital emergency rooms.

The operations have been under stress because of budget reductions that cut the Mental Health Emergency Room Extension’s 20 beds in half. Now the unit must change its structure, because its current license requires hospital alignment.

Capital Area Executive Director Jan Kasofsky said a plan is under way that could restore the 20 beds and provide a more stable funding stream, as the unit becomes a free-standing “crisis receiving center,” which would be a first such licensed facility in the state.

“We are doing some different things. We had to study some different models, because every way we turned were roadblocks: licensing and safety roadblocks,” Kasofsky said.

“It’s basically what MHERE is doing, but not tied to a hospital,” she said. “Nobody wants MHERE to go away.”

“It’s been such a substantial savings to the state,” Kasofsky said.

About 2,800 people were seen there over a 19-month period, and savings have been more than $27 million in hospital costs in those 19 months. Hospitalizations have been reduced to 32 percent.

State Department of Health and Hospitals spokeswoman Kristen Sunde said the Capital Area licensing request “is in the very beginning stages” of review. “We don’t have a time frame on when the licensing process will be complete. We are working with them ...”

Plans for the newly formed crisis recovery center include restoring the 20 beds — half would be for involuntary commitments and the other half for those voluntarily seeking help, Kasofsky said.

“We will pretty much keep the staff we have,” Kasofsky said.

The center will have a nurse manager who will make a determination when people are brought in as to whether he or she believes their medical needs could be met on-site, or they need to be admitted to a hospital, Kasofsky said.

Today, the individual goes first to Earl K. Long’s emergency room for a medical evaluation. Without the hospital, other accommodations needed to be made, Kasofsky said.

Kasofsky said LSU has committed to keeping the emergency room open until the end of June.

After EKL closes, Kasofsky said LSU will operate an urgent care medical center, which is under construction, close to the Airline Drive hospital so that facility would be available.

The center won’t be a walk-in facility. The patients will either have to have been brought there by law enforcement or referred there by Capital Area as someone who is in crisis.

The length of stay can be anywhere from hours to 15 days.

About half of those involuntarily committed today are Medicaid-eligible, so some funding is anticipated from that revenue source, Kasofsky said. Other funding would be generated through the Low Income and Needy Care Collaboration Agreement by using money CAHSD budgeted for psychiatrists to draw down federal funds on an approximate 5-to-1 match, she said.

Estimated annual operating cost is $2 million, Kasofsky said. “We think we are about $250,000 short,” she said. “In other areas, community hospitals have chipped in dollars because ‘it relieves their emergency rooms.’ ”

The crisis unit will stay in the same modular building it occupies today on the EKL campus after the hospital closes in late 2013. Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center will become home to EKL inpatient services and graduate medical education programs then.

“We are trying to find any plans of selling the land or if there’s any other state-use planned for the property,” Kasofsky said.