Alaskans who need acute psychiatric care may find themselves waiting even longer to get the help they need.

On Monday, the state-run Alaska Psychiatric Institute began a construction project that will cost about $1 million and close ten of the hospital's 80 beds for at least the next five months.

API CEO Ron Hale said the hospital is replacing toilets and doors in patient rooms that could present a suicide hazard. Hale said API needs to do the work in order to keep its accreditation and continue to accept Medicare and Medicaid patients.

But the loss of ten beds could prove challenging. Hale said on a typical day, there are up to a dozen patients that need to be admitted and often just four or five who are discharged. There is usually a waiting list where patients can stay for several days.

"It could mean the waiting list grows a little bit," said Hale. "Obviously we are going to have 10 beds less to operate. We haven't changed any of our procedures or policies. We are still admitting patients and discharging patients, hopefully at the same rate."

Hale said the hospital is facing a longer-term issue -- hiring the nursing staff it needs, which he said is always a challenge. Hale said it's possible that once the construction is done, there may not be enough staff to keep every bed open.

"I can't predict that," said Hale. "But my hope is that we get more creative about recruiting and hiring folks and retain the staff we have."

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