The Alaska Psychiatric Institute has reached a milestone, according to Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

At a press conference Monday, Dunleavy announced the troubled institute has been found in “substantial compliance” by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid after an unscheduled visit to the facility last week. Dunleavy said restoring the CMS certification means API can continue to receive federal reimbursement for services provided to patients from Medicaid and Medicare.

"It has gone from a state of emergency to a psychiatric facility in good standing with federal and state regulatory agencies," Dunleavy said in a press release. "I applaud the leadership at API and [the Department of Health and Human Services] for making the safety of patients and staff a top priority. All Alaskans will benefit from having this critical piece of our behavioral health system functioning safely and effectively."

Gov. Dunleavy talks about improvements at API

The governor cited several other recent improvements at API including:

•     Receiving its full state license after being removed from provisional status.

•     Increasing the number of patients receiving care from a low of 22 to 46, filling just over half of the 80 beds available.

•     Reducing the wait list time to two weeks for individuals needing forensics evaluations down from a high of six months.

“These steps get us very close to the ideal situation for API, staff and patients,” Dunleavy said. “There is still room for a lot of improvement, but these major achievements show the API staff have put in hard work to make these changes, put these changes in place and they deserve our thanks.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers on the House Health and Social Services Committee have released statements on API's certification.

“The re-certification of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services is welcome. However, API is still barely operating above 50 percent capacity, and the adolescent unit is still not open." Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, said. "The potential privatization of the hospital is making it difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff. If the administration is serious about getting the hospital back to full capacity, they should take privatization off the table and aggressively recruit to fill funded but vacant positions at API."

Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel, also spoke out, saying while she joins her colleagues in appreciating API's return to good standing, it's important that DHHS prioritizes increasing capacity for all API units.

"We should not lose focus on patient and staff safety by wasting resources on feasibility studies that have shown that privatization does not save the state money or improve operating outcomes," she said.

DHHS Commissioner Adam Crum said increasing staffing levels has been the biggest challenge for Wellpath, the private company which is currently running API under a no bid contract. Crum said the state is working to increase pay levels to attract more people to work there so that the facility can be fully functional.

Crum said the state plans to conduct a feasibility study in the near future to determine whether API should be privatized on a permanent basis. Right now, Wellpath’s million dollar a month contract expires on Dec. 31. If the study determines that privatizing API makes sense, the contract to run it will be put out to bid.

Elizabeth Roman contributed to this report.

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