Heartland Community Health Center to ask for $1.5 million from Douglas County to fund new building

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Heartland Community Health Center's 8,000-square-foot "Bluestem Wellness Building" is pictured on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The building is still under construction and is slated to open to the public on Oct. 1, 2024.

Heartland Community Health Center is poised to ask for $1.5 million from Douglas County to support remaining construction costs at its new 8,000-square-foot building dedicated to behavioral health services.

Though the Douglas County Commission will hear more about that request at its weekly meeting Wednesday, commissioners won’t be making any decisions on whether to award that funding right away. Instead, Heartland plans to make the request as part of the county’s 2025 budget process. The County Commission typically commences its annual budget hearings each year following the Fourth of July.

As the Journal-World reported, Heartland last year launched a $3 million expansion project to its psychiatry and behavioral health care services. Those expanded services will be housed at the new “Bluestem Wellness Building” currently under construction directly east of Heartland’s current building at 1312 W. Sixth St.

The building will include designated spaces for a variety of therapy and psychiatric services, and a multipurpose room for group therapy and other programming hosted by Heartland. The building is in the final stages of construction and is slated to open to the public on Oct. 1.

According to a memo included with the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, Heartland has already leveraged $1.9 million in funding from federal and regional grants, operating capital and local philanthropic investment toward the project. The $1.5 million request of the county, according to the agenda, would allow Heartland to redirect both that amount toward the principal of its loan and an additional $1,264,128.91 in interest back into its behavioral health and psychiatry infrastructure over the next four years, “more than doubling the impact in behavioral health projects.”

Heartland is characterizing the additional resource as a great need for Douglas County. The memo notes that the county is designated as a “Mental Health Professional Shortage Area” by the Health Resources and Services Administration, meaning that the county has a provider shortage compared to its total population.

Additionally, the memo notes that the county’s 2023 Community Needs Assessment identified behavioral health as a top priority, with nearly one in four residents having been diagnosed with depression. That’s especially relevant for Heartland, which serves a low-income population; the memo also notes that Douglas County community members with an income less than $35,000 per year were 2.9 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression.

“This is why Federally Qualified Community Health Centers like Heartland play a crucial role in addressing the diverse healthcare needs of the communities they serve across the state, including providing essential behavioral health services,” the memo reads.

In other business, commissioners will:

• As part of a work session, receive a presentation on Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s Youth Recovery Center.

As the Journal-World has reported, Bert Nash is working to open a behavioral health crisis center for kids at 3500 Clinton Place, potentially within the next three years. The Youth Recovery Center is intended to fill a gap in such care; kids younger than 18 years old can’t be admitted to the observation and stabilization unit at the Treatment and Recovery Center, which Bert Nash also operates.

According to a presentation included with Wednesday’s agenda, Bert Nash intends to ask the county for $2 million in funding as part of the capital campaign for the project. Commissioners don’t take action on items discussed during work sessions.

• Consider a request to redirect $27,500 in “Zero Suicide” funding from Headquarters Kansas to Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health to offset the costs of creating a Zero Suicide Coordinator position in 2024.

The Zero Suicide framework, according to Wednesday’s agenda, provides a roadmap for organizations to provide safer suicide care. Suicide prevention and reduction work has been led by Headquarters Kansas in close partnership with LDCPH prior to 2024, but the agenda notes that leadership and staff turnover at the agency since January has “created significant disruption and uncertainty” regarding future operation of the Douglas County Crisis Line, dispatch of Bert Nash’s mobile response team and leadership of the Zero Suicide initiative in the county.

The agenda goes on to note that Headquarters Kansas has “failed to provide the necessary supporting documents” — including a scope of work, budget and personnel schedule — to execute a service agreement and complete that work in 2024.

“To staff’s knowledge, none of the proposed deliverables for Zero Suicide were achieved in the first six months of 2024,” the agenda reads. “County staff were notified on May 1 that members of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center who have led this work for the past five years were no longer employed by (Headquarters Kansas). Further delays, departures and disruption jeopardize progress in this space and raise additional concerns from community prevention and crisis response partners.”

In response, the health department has proposed transitioning into a leadership role for the Zero Suicide initiative, primarily by way of creating a coordinator position.

• Approve a revised lived experience compensation policy.

The County Commission in September 2023 approved a policy spelling out guidelines for compensating people with “lived experience” — those with personal experience with a certain issue who give input on the county’s policies — who participate in the work of certain county boards and committees. Under the policy, people who qualify would be paid $25 per meeting for participating once per month or $50 per meeting for actually serving on a board.

The additional provisions up for consideration this week would permit the utilization of gift cards as a form of compensation to those with lived experience who participate in the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, Douglas County Food Policy Council or Housing and Homeless Stakeholder Group.

The County Commission’s work session will begin at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Douglas County Public Works training room at 3755 E. 25th St., and the business meeting will follow at 5:30 p.m. The meeting will also be available via Zoom.

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