Group housing facility Transitions opens in full capacity, completing first piece of behavioral health campus
photo by: Bert Nash
The new group housing facility operated by Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center is ready to be fully occupied, completing a piece of the county’s behavioral health campus.
Transitions is a 12-bed supportive group housing facility located within the Treatment and Recovery Campus of Douglas County, 1000 W. Second St. The supportive group home received its residential care facility license this week, allowing it to open all 12 of its beds, which include two crisis beds. Bert Nash Supportive Housing Supervisor Mathew Faulk said Transitions opened in March, but until it secured the license it was only able to operate five of the beds.
“We’re grateful to the county and all of our providers who have been a part of this project, and we are really excited about being able to use this building to its fullest capacity,” Faulk said.
Douglas County voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax in 2018 to help fund the behavioral health projects. In October 2020, the Douglas County Commission approved the financial plan for the campus. According to information from the county, the cost for construction of the three facilities is $11.6 million.
Transitions is staffed 24/7 and will provide support services to those recovering from behavioral health issues and help its residents transition back to living independently. Faulk said the facility is specifically for those with severe and persistent mental illness, and most participants who come to group homes are without housing. That includes people coming from an inpatient psychiatric facility, being released from the jail, or who have been living on the street.
photo by: Bert Nash
Faulk said the average stay will be between 90 and 120 days, but that people could stay for as long as a year. He said while people are living at Transitions, Bert Nash staff will provide case management and other support, including helping residents manage their mental health symptoms but also their daily lives, including their budgets and other appointments. He said the goal is to increase their skills and help them learn to ultimately manage their own symptoms so they can live independently.
“The idea is that they graduate from those services and become independent and be able to live in the community,” Faulk said.
Faulk said there are currently 12 to 15 people on the waiting list for Transitions, but that does not represent all the need in the community. He noted that Bert Nash also has a similar facility, Bridges, that provides five beds. He said the community needs both more transitional beds and more permanent housing for graduating residents to move to.
“We are in the middle of a housing crisis right now and we definitely need more facilities and programs like this, not only on the transitional side of services but also permanent housing that our clients can access and live their lives in,” Faulk said.
Transitions is one of the three components of the Treatment and Recovery Campus and the first to open in full capacity. The other housing facility on the campus is The Cottages at Green Lake.
The Cottages, which are operated by the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, consist of 10 one-bedroom units that provide permanent affordable and supportive housing to residents with behavioral health issues. Resident live much more independently than those at Transitions, but still receive support services.
The Cottages currently has only two of its units occupied, but plans to open the remaining eight units in July. Heather McNeive, director of general housing for the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, said in an email to the Journal-World that the two occupied units are supported by a housing trust fund partnership through the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation. McNeive said that the housing authority is awaiting final approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of eight project-based vouchers for the remaining units.
“Once we have it, we are ready to move forward with the lease up of the other eight units,” McNeive said.
McNeive said project-based vouchers are a form of federal rental assistance tied to the units themselves to subsidize the rent. She said the tenant will pay rent at an affordable amount based on their income and the subsidy will pay the rest of the cost of fair market rent.
photo by: Mike Yoder
Crisis and Recovery Center
The final piece of the behavioral health campus is a 20,000-square-foot mental health crisis center that will be directly west of Transitions. The Crisis and Recovery Center will be operated by a joint LMH Health and Bert Nash nonprofit organization, Behavioral Health Partners, and will include crisis services provided by several community health organizations. The facility plan calls for a 23-hour observation unit, 72-hour stabilization unit and after-hours secure entry.
The center is currently under construction, and Bob Tryanski, Douglas County’s director for behavioral health projects, said it’s expected the center will be completed in January 2022. Once complete, he said the center would provide up to 16 beds in the 23-hour observation unit, as well as eight rooms in the stabilization unit that could accommodate up to 16 beds.
Above all, Tryanski said the center would provide an option other than the emergency room for people experiencing a mental health crisis. Currently, Tryanski said the emergency department at LMH Health is the primary location where people in crisis go, and that data shows between seven and 11 people per day are seeking care there that would be better delivered in the crisis center. Though he said the addition of some staff in the emergency department has helped improve the response in recent years, the emergency room is not the ideal setting for mental health crisis care.
“We’ve embedded behavioral health crisis clinicians in the emergency department, so when people show up in crisis we show up differently than we did before,” Tryanski said. “But the emergency room will never be an ideal setting for a person in crisis, so we’re trying to build a system that offers the right care, in the right setting, at the right time.”
The county has also been working for the last several years to reduce jail stays for people with serious mental illness. Douglas County joined a new multiyear initiative on that issue — Set, Measure, Achieve — in September 2020, as the Journal-World previously reported. Set, Measure, Achieve is an initiative from Stepping Up, which is a national project by The Council of State Governments Justice Center, the National Association of Counties and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation that the county joined in October 2015.
Tryanski said it’s estimated that once all of the components of the campus are complete, at least 50 new staff members will be needed to operate the campus. The Douglas County Commission approved a community partner agreement with LMH Health in April to expand the Douglas County Integrated Crisis Team at a cost not to exceed $466,000 over the next year. The total size of the Integrated Crisis Team could grow to 9.8 full-time positions, and the team will provide full 24/7 coverage at LMH Health and facilitate an extension of the Bert Nash Access Center hours, allowing the center to be open until 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. That team will transfer to the Crisis and Recovery Center once it opens.
Tryanski said the project partners have already begun building the staffing, workflows and care coordination by delivering those services in the emergency department, and the County Commission’s recent approval of the integrated crisis team was yet another step.
“There is a whole sort of process that you have to build for, train for and practice, and that process is underway,” Tryanski said.