A Pennsylvania-based Fortune 500 company plans to take over a behavioral health hospital that’s been owned by the nonprofit Tucson Medical Center since 1993.
Universal Health Services Inc. has entered into an agreement to purchase Palo Verde Behavioral Health Services, TMC officials said Wednesday. They would not disclose the purchase price.
Universal Health is expected to expand Palo Verde — which serves adults only — to include services for children and adolescents, much needed in Pima County for several years. Company spokesman Bob Murray said the facility will have a separate wing for young patients, though he did not know how many beds.
Palo Verde is a stand-alone, 43,169-square-foot facility that has been on the TMC campus since 1984. Licensed for 48 beds, it has a current capacity of 40, and provides inpatient and outpatient services. The average length of stay varies from seven to 10 days, and the average daily census is 34. The facility had nearly 1,800 admissions over the last 12 months, TMC officials said.
The sale encompasses the entire operation of services, with TMC to retain ownership of the land and facilities.
“Running a behavioral health hospital is very different from an acute care hospital,” TMC spokeswoman Julia Strange said. “Universal Health Services has the expertise. They run these hospitals all over the country, and they have an ability to invest and grow the business in a way we just don’t have.”
The 88 TMC employees working at Palo Verde will retain their positions under the leadership of Universal Health Services, officials said.
Palo Verde had accepted youths and children between 3 and 17 for two decades until 2007 when it began accepting adults only. The year it closed for youths, it had housed 403 youths and children who stayed an average of three to five days.
Currently only one facility in Tucson accepts young psychiatric patients who require hospitalization: Sonora Behavioral Health Hospital on the northwest side. The South Side Crisis Response Center accepts children in crisis but does not have inpatient beds for them.
Officials with Sonora Behavioral Health, which has 32 beds for children and teens, say more inpatient beds for kids would provide a major benefit to the community.
“We have a tendency to staying full. It’s always hard to say, ‘Sorry, we’re full.’ We never want to turn children away,” said Michelle Watkins, the hospital’s director of risk management and performance improvement. “There are always benefits to having an array of services.”
The addition of beds for younger patients will be a plus for families who had transportation troubles getting to Sonora Behavioral Health Hospital, said Neal Cash, president and chief executive officer for the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, which runs the local, publicly funded behavioral health system.
“It’s not a gigantic population, but it helps that we have another game in town,” Cash said.
Some children have gone as far as Phoenix to get inpatient care, said Susan Moreno, assistant site director for the Tucson office of MIKID, which stands for Mentally Ill Kids In Distress.
She said that 48 hours in the crisis center is not enough time for some kids.
“I’m all for someone staying in the hospital for three weeks. Some of the medications don’t start working for three weeks. The first medication might not work,” she said. “I am thrilled to have more psych beds for the kids. Not that we want to use them, but the need is there.”
Additionally, TMC will continue to provide ancillary services, such as food service, to the facility. The behavioral health annex in the emergency department will be managed by Universal Health Services.
Tucson Medical Center, licensed at more than 600 beds, is a nonprofit hospital at East Grant and North Craycroft roads.
Universal Health Services is a national for-profit company that focuses on owning and operating acute care hospitals, behavioral health centers, surgical hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers and radiation oncology centers. It operates more than 196 behavioral health facilities in 37 states, including two in Phoenix.
“This organization seems to have a lot of expertise operating this kind of facility,” said Clarke Romans, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Southern Arizona office.
“Not that Tucson Medical Center and Palo Verde weren’t doing a good job. It just wasn’t their focus. Walking into this, it seems positive,” Romans said.