Tim Cockrell provides medical, business perspectives in role with behavioral health hospital
Cape Girardeau’s new behavioral health hospital is now treating patients, and at the helm of the operation is a seasoned health care administrator who has a clinical and business background.
Tim Cockrell started Aug. 1, 2020 as chief executive officer and managing director of the Southeast Behavioral Health Hospital, a joint effort between Universal Health Services (UHS) and SoutheastHEALTH, and he is focused on making the facility’s rollout a success.
Finishing the accreditation process and making hires would be a big enough job on top of his other responsibilities. But doing this during a pandemic has led to another layer of decision points.
“Once we get our official letter in the next couple of weeks, we will be able to then apply for Medicaid and Medicare and be able to accept those for reimbursement,” he told B Magazine during an interview the Tuesday after Memorial Day. At that time, commercial insurance was the only thing that the hospital was being reimbursed.
Accreditation also means the facility will be able to accept involuntary patients going through the court system and legally be able to require them to stay.
Why behavioral health?
Cockrell got his start in health care at the age of 19. He was a nurse in a critical care unit before advancing into management, ultimately advancing to the role of chief nursing officer in Jackson, Mississippi — a position he held for nine years.
Other experiences include: serving as CEO of a rural hospital; working for Health Management Associates (one of the major U.S. health care organizations); leading psychiatric hospitals in Knoxville, Tennessee and Montgomery, Alabama; and right before coming to Cape Girardeau leading a 100-bed free-standing behavioral health hospital in Hazard, Kentucky.
Cockrell said the transition from nurse to a more focused career in behavioral health started about 20 years ago. While a nurse manager over an organ transplant unit, a former supervisor recruited him for a director-level position of which one of the reporting departments was a psychiatric holding unit.
“It offered no psych care,” Cockrell said. “That was back in the day when all the state facilities were full. So it’d be a four- to six-week waiting period to get a patient into a state facility. All I did was house those patients during that time. Gave them their meds and just housed them, but no group [interaction], no therapy, nothing along that line.”
In 1993, the operation had an opportunity to apply for a 30-bed psychiatric unit and Cockrell was tapped to open it. He’s overseen psychiatric care either directly or indirectly ever since.
Cockrell said he was recruited to lead the Cape Girardeau hospital. He liked the location, which was closer to some of his family in Mississippi. And he called the opportunity here “tremendous,” knowing there was a need in the community and surrounding areas.
Trends in behavioral health
Cockrell identified a few different trends in behavioral health, some present before the pandemic and others that could be exacerbated by the isolation many faced over the last year.
Anywhere he’s worked in the last 10-plus years, Cockrell has noticed an increase in patients with dual diagnosis — meaning they have a mental illness combined with a co-occurring substance abuse disorder.
“They kind of go hand-in-hand nowadays. And honestly, that’s what we’re seeing a lot of here.”
Which one leads to the other is up for debate.
“Are they so depressed that they’re using [drugs], or because they’re using that’s causing the depression? We are a psychiatric facility, so we have to treat primarily psychiatric issues. Now we do treat substance abuse as well, but we’re not primarily a rehab center.”
Another trend in some areas is multiple drug abusers living in the same household.
“You see generations, at least three generations of drug abusers living in the same household. Grandparent, parent, child, all of them using drugs.”
The big question: Once individuals with mental health issues and drug dependency issues are treated for the psychiatric issues, do they return to drug use or pursue better life choices?
“It’s kind of a mix, hopefully not. Hopefully you can you can teach them better coping skills, other alternatives as opposed to drugs. Typically we can stabilize them from a psychiatric side, but then they will need further treatment on the addiction side.”
Cockrell said there’s more depression among kids and adolescents these days, which was happening before the pandemic. But it was likely made worse when children were kept out of school.
“Kids were somewhat isolating themselves before [the pandemic] anyway because of the computer and social networking. But when they were truly physically isolated, it’s going to be interesting to see what the outcomes are from that.”
For some children, he said, school was their safe place, an opportunity to escape a troubled home life for six to eight hours a day.
One of his major projects is to recruit a child adolescent psychiatrist so the adolescent unit can be opened. Once that individual is on board, it opens the door to help more children. And for those with troubled home lives, social services can intervene to help find solutions.
Once the facility is able to ramp up services, Cockrell expects the hospital to have a “very close working relationship” with area schools.
The hiring challenge
Like so many other organizations, recruiting employees is Cockrell’s biggest challenge.
About 70% of his staff are skilled professionals (nurses and social workers) with entry level positions making up most of the balance. Once at capacity, the facility will employ about 250 people.
Much like fast food restaurants are currently struggling to hire entry-level workers, Cockrell is also finding it difficult to hire individuals for entry-level roles. In fact, right before the facility opened he had a dietary manager hired but no cooks. As a backup, he and some of the other administrative staff took the food handler certification online so they could assist with food preparation if needed. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that point.
The national nursing shortage is part of the challenge, too. But Cockrell was encouraged, noting he had just hired nine nurses to join his operation.
Once fully staffed, the hospital will have six to eight providers — physicians, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners. In the meantime, they’re using a physician out of Poplar Bluff during the week and another out of St. Louis on the weekends.
Cockrell said in his experience the makeup of patient insurance is 33% Medicaid, 33% Medicare, 20% commercial insurance and 10% indigent or charity care.
“I don’t know if that’s what our makeup will be, but it’s going be somewhere around there. You can tweak it a little bit one way or the other.”
Tweaking it has something to do with the units open. Currently only two of the four units are operating. The geriatric unit, he said, will be the next one to open, and that will increase their Medicare numbers.
Missouri voters supported Medicaid expansion at the ballot box in 2020, but in the 2021 legislative session lawmakers did not authorize the funding mechanism to make the expansion possible. With the large number of people already on Medicaid in Southeast Missouri, Cockrell said it certainly could affect the new hospital.
When Cockrell talks about the need for a behavioral health hospital in this area, it’s in part based on the geography.
Cape Girardeau is strategically located between St. Louis and Memphis with only some access to similar services in Sikeston and Poplar Bluff. But as far as a facility with similar capacity and scope of services, there’s not really a comparable option unless you go north or south on I-55.
For involuntary commitments, some patients in this area have been sent to St. Louis as the nearest option with available beds. Once the Cape Girardeau facility is accredited, that will begin to change.
While most of the facility’s referrals have come from SoutheastHEALTH, Cockrell said they have received quite a few from Saint Francis, too.
The facility’s primary catchment area is the five surrounding counties, which covers about 200,000 individuals. But when you add secondary markets the hospital will cover 650,000 people in a 100-mile radius of Cape Girardeau.
The opening of the new hospital had its share of delays — some related to the pandemic, others being standard challenges of a major construction project. The rollout has been deliberately slow, also in part a byproduct of the pandemic and in part leadership’s focus on doing things the right way and slowly ramping up. Cockrell notes that behavioral health is not the most profitable segment of health care, but the need for these services is certainly clear to the hospital’s chief. And he believes the facility is poised for success and impact.
COVID-19 deaths rise by 2; cases high in Scott CountyScott County health officials reported two COVID-19-related deaths Friday, as the county remains one of the state’s virus hotspots. The two Scott County victims were in the 60s and 70s age groups. The deaths pushed the county’s pandemic total to...
More than 500 participate in Paint for a Cause mural for Glenn HouseIt started in the woods. Artist Aaron Horrell scouted for photos to put in his weekly Southeast Missourian column "Through the Woods," when suddenly an idea struck. "I was thinking of a way to get people in the area more interested in art and to...
Missouri's Methodists reaffirm denominational position on Boy ScoutsThe Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) last week said it continues to "strongly recommend" the advice of the denomination's chief finance agency to end the practice of local churches' "chartering" of Boy Scout, Cub Scout and...
New pickleball courts open in Litz Park5Doug Brown has played pickleball all over the country, but finding somewhere locally to play his favorite sport was always a bit of a challenge. Not anymore. On Friday, SEMO Pickleball Club and the City of Jackson celebrated the grand opening of...
SEMO governors approve initial Houck Field rebuild13Southeast Missouri State University's Board of Governors OK'd plans Friday to begin renovating Houck Field. "Athletics plays a vital role for our institution," SEMO president Dr. Carlos Vargas said in a statement from the university. "A...
KRCU drive nearly reaches fundraising goalSoutheast Missouri State University's public radio station, KRCU-FM, completed its fall pledge drive Wednesday and got very close to its amended $40,000 on-air goal. General manager Dan Woods said the Sept. 15 to 22 effort fell just $572 short....
Grimm elected to head state bar organization8Cape Girardeau attorney and former Circuit Court Judge John Grimm has been elected to a one-year term as president of The Missouri Bar, an organization that represents approximately 30,000 lawyers throughout the state. His election Friday afternoon...
UPDATED: One dead in Cape shooting; search on for 3 suspects; victim identified10Cape Girardeau authorities responded to the 1100 block of Giboney Avenue at about 12:30 p.m. Thursday in response to a shooting. A 39-year-old man was shot and died at the scene, according to Sgt. Joey Hann of Cape Girardeau Police Department....
Southeast grad discovers Taft's 1909 remarks in Cape Girardeau3This story is updated. Rob Lewis has long been curious about what President William Howard Taft said nearly 112 years ago when the 17-boat flotilla carrying the nation's 27th president and many other political dignitaries stopped at the Cape...
Absentee voting opens in Cape County4The voting process has begun for the Nov. 2 election as absentee votes began to be accepted Tuesday in Cape Girardeau County. Three municipalities are asking residents for a use tax, or a tax on internet sales, made possible by the Missouri...
Beer, music and pumpkin dives: Fall into the season with these festivals and activitiesIt's late September, and already the leaves have begun to change, temperatures have dropped to a crisp cool, and pumpkin-spiced products fill store shelves. To ring in the start of the new season, find fall-themed events to fill your weekends here....
Saint Francis to hold third annual Color Dash 5k and Fun Walk1Saint Francis Foundation is bringing a pop of color to Arena Park for a good cause again this year. The third annual Color Dash 5K and Fun Walk will be held beginning at 10 a.m. Oct. 2 at Arena Park in Cape Girardeau. Registration will be from 9 to...
Fraternity alums start scholarship for SEMO international students1A new scholarship for international students at Southeast Missouri State University has been endowed by several alumni of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity chapter at Southeast. The Lambda Chi Alpha Alumni Endowed Scholarship for SEMO International...
Cape man arrested for alleged DWIA Cape Girardeau man was cited for driving while intoxicated and careless and imprudent driving resulting in a crash. According to a Missouri State Highway Patrol report, Benito Peralta-Cruz, 20, was taken into custody in Cape Girardeau County at...
Scott County arrest leads to felony citationsA Haywood City, Missouri, man was cited for a number of felony offenses after being arrested in Scott County. A Missouri State Highway Patrol report said Abe Williams, 67, was arrested at about 6 p.m. Tuesday and cited for two counts of felony...
Most read 9/24/21Lava spread raises fears of more damage on Spanish islandTODOQUE, Canary Islands -- The advance of lava from a volcanic eruption on one of Spain's Canary Islands has slowed significantly, raising fears Thursday the molten rock might fan out farther in coming days and wreak more destruction instead of just...
Jackson man receives maximum sentence for murder of ex-girlfriendA Jackson man received a 30-year sentence for second-degree murder and armed criminal action. On Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Lewis sentenced 27-year-old Victor Grebing to consecutive sentences for offenses related to the June 23, 2020,...
Developer wins Council backing for proposed south Cape project1Chad Hartle of RCH Development has been developing affordable housing projects since 1987 and his latest initiative, South Side Village (SSV), won the endorsement of the Cape Girardeau City Council on Monday. The proposed 42-unit mixed-use...
Gov. Parson extends COVID antibody sites13Gov. Mike Parson has ordered six state-contracted monoclonal antibody infusion centers, including those in Sikeston and Poplar Bluff, to remain open an additional 30 days to help some COVID sufferers avoid hospitalization. The infusions, funded by...
One City to host first Hispanic Heritage Festival on SaturdayTo celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, One City will host its first-ever Hispanic Heritage Celebration on Saturday. Hispanic restaurants including Panader'a Oaxaquena will serve their signature eats, live music from local artists will play...
3 Scott County virus deaths reported1Three COVID-19-related deaths pushed Scott County's pandemic death total into triple digits, county health officials reported Wednesday. According to officials at the county health department, the deaths were in the 40s, 60s and 70s age brackets....
Use-tax revenue could fund street improvements, higher Scott City employee wages1For Scott City Mayor Norman Brant, approving a use tax is "a no-brainer." Brant said Wednesday a use tax could generate $200,000 or more annually if passed by voters Nov. 2. Revenue generated from the tax may go toward street improvements and...
Cape Girardeau County Commission agenda for 9/23/21 meetingCape Girardeau County Commission 9 a.m. Monday 1 Barton Square, Jackson Approval of minutes n Minutes of stated meeting of Sept. 20, 2021 Communications/reports -- other elected officials n COVID-19 Update: In an effort to keep Cape Girardeau County...
Most read 9/22/21Cape students vandalize school restrooms for viral TikTok trend7A viral TikTok trend called "Devious Licks" has inspired some Cape Girardeau School District students to vandalize school restrooms. Central Middle School administrators said in a letter to parents Tuesday the school has seen "an extreme amount of...
Most read 9/22/21Central students could face criminal charges following video of assault45A number of Cape Girardeau Central students have been disciplined after video surfaced showing them physically attacking another student. School officials would not comment on identities of the students, how many were involved in the incident, the...
Completion of Center Junction project delayed9"Dirt problems" have caused a minor delay in the diverging diamond interchange (DDI) project at Center Junction between Cape Girardeau and Jackson, pushing the project completion back by more than a week. The project's general contractor, Penzel...
Cape Council to adjust Sunday liquor sales hours; TTF6 money allotted for streets5In accordance with a measure approved by the Missouri General Assembly this spring, Cape Girardeau City Council gave first reading to a bill Monday extending the hours liquor may be sold in the city on Sundays. "This ordinance is just to comply with...
Longtime Mississippi County prosecutor dies from COVID-198CHARLESTON, Mo. — Mississippi County Prosecuting Attorney Darren Cann died early Thursday at Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston, Missouri. He was 56. A post Thursday on the Charleston Department of Public Safety official Facebook page said...
Jackson aldermen side with neighbors against home-based business2Jason Yeager's next door neighbors want his business to succeed, just not at his home. And after hearing from the neighbors, the Jackson Board of Aldermen agreed Yeager shouldn't operate Fuzz's Transmissions in an area zoned for single-family...