Bert Nash, Heartland Community Health reveal more details about project that would create new health campus

When Obamacare arrives in full force in 2014, it may bring with it a new $6 million to $8 million primary care clinic and mental health facility in central Lawrence.

The top executive at the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center confirmed the organization is working toward a capital campaign that would fund a new outpatient health care campus on the old Veterans of Foreign Wars post near Second and Alabama streets.

The new center, which would be on a 13-acre site just a block away from Lawrence Memorial Hospital, would be designed to serve the thousands of people who are expected to have health insurance under federal health care reform. If state officials decided to expand Medicaid as federal health reform encourages, it is estimated an additional 11,000 Douglas County residents will have health insurance.

“Thousands of people who don’t have coverage will now have it, and we have to be prepared to serve them,” said David Johnson, chief executive officer at Bert Nash. “If we do nothing, a big impact will be on the hospital’s emergency room.”

At the center of the plan is a partnership between Bert Nash and the Heartland Community Health Center, which serves low-income patients in space in the former Riverfront Mall in downtown Lawrence.

The partnership would focus on providing primary care services — all the services you would find at a traditional doctor’s office — with mental health care.

Primary care physicians and mental health care providers would be in the same building and would be available to work together to treat patients.

“The statistics show that about 75 percent of all issues that show up for treatment in a primary care practice have some basis in behavioral care,” said Jon Stewart, chief executive of Heartland. “We feel like we do need to look at the idea of practicing health care in a different way.”

The proposed project also includes a partnerships with Outside for a Better Inside, a group led by Lawrence businessman John McGrew that promotes getting children and others out in nature.

McGrew is proposing to build a walking trail and observation area around a large pond. In the past, there also has been talk of a wellness center and a “Miracle Field,” which is a baseball field specially designed for individuals with disabilities. McGrew said the efforts will tie in well with the health clinic’s mission because the trails and nature facilities can help prevent illness.

“The statistics about the amount of time kids spend outside are really disheartening,” McGrew said. “A computer is a great tool, but it shouldn’t be a lifestyle.”

Johnson said ideally he would like to break ground on the project, including the clinic, in 2014. But he said the organization will have to come up with a fundraising plan. He expects the project to attract grant money, but he said Bert Nash also is contemplating a fundraising campaign. Preliminary concept plans have estimated the price tag at $6 million to $8 million, although that is likely to change as plans become more refined.

Bert Nash signed a deal to buy the property last year from the VFW, which is building a new post off of Haskell Avenue, for $825,000. When Bert Nash filed plans to rezone the property, it submitted a concept plan that included a 30,000 square-foot building, plus a small wellness center, the trails and the Miracle Field. But Johnson said that plan largely was an exercise in seeing what could fit on the property, and more detailed plans will be developed. He also said Bert Nash expects to have discussion with the Lawrence Public School District about buying the approximately one-acre site that is adjacent to the VFW property. Currently, the school district uses the property for its facilities maintenance department.

Johnson, McGrew and Stewart provided a briefing on the project to the Lawrence Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees on Wednesday morning. LMH board members said they were interested in learning more about the project. Johnson said he expected to do planning for the new facility in cooperation with the hospital.