Bert Nash hires director of youth recovery center and announces expected 2026 opening of center

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The building at 3500 Clinton Place is pictured Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023. The site is set to become the new location for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center's youth recovery center.

A future Lawrence-based center that will provide mental health care and substance abuse treatment to children has its first director, which puts it on track for a 2026 opening.

Kristin Vernon, a licensed specialist clinical social worker, has been hired to become the first director of the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s youth recovery center, which will open in the former healthcare building near Clinton Parkway and Kasold Drive.

Vernon has previously worked with youth and families in group homes, school settings and for a private practice. In her new role, she will be responsible for overseeing how crisis care is provided at the center, among other duties.

“I think this is an important role that we will be able to fill,” Vernon said in a press release. “It’s a huge need for the community, and I’m excited to be a part of that.”

The youth recovery center — estimated to open at an undetermined time in 2026 — will serve youth ages 6-17, which is a group that currently struggles to receive crisis care and hospitalization in Douglas County, said Bert Nash CEO Patrick Schmitz.

Schmitz said while the building at 3500 Clinton Place is being reconstructed, Vernon will be working on how the building will function day and night, identifying criteria for admission, workflows and other policies.

As the Journal-World has reported, Bert Nash is currently raising funds for its capital campaign to help pay for a full-scale remodel of the 3500 Clinton Place facility. It is estimated to cost between $12 million to $12.5 million to complete the project. Although a majority of the funding will be from private and other donations, Bert Nash is asking for $2 million from the Douglas County Commission, which it will consider during its upcoming budget sessions.

At last Wednesday’s Douglas County Commission meeting, Bert Nash’s team also discussed plans for the space at 3500 Clinton Place, which is still in the early stages of design. The building — which used to serve as an outpatient location for LMH Health — has three levels, two above ground and one below ground level.

* The first level will be for the outpatient clinic for children’s services. This floor will have several therapy offices and a dedicated testing room.

* Space for crisis stabilization will be on the second level. This floor will accommodate children who need mental health and substance use treatment, including overnight stays lasting 2-3 days with eight individual beds being available.

* In the lower level of the facility, there will be additional therapy offices and larger group rooms for children participating in their intensive outpatient program.

This project would extend absent crisis care for youth whose parents need to drive out of Douglas County to obtain it. As the Journal-World has reported, Bert Nash has partnered with O’Connell Children’s Shelter to form this new youth crisis continuum of care. The continuum of care will incorporate Bert Nash’s mobile response team, the TRC of Douglas County, and the upcoming youth recovery center.

“I think one thing that’s really important is the sooner we get this built and the sooner we get it funded, the sooner we get to saving more kids’ lives and making our community healthier,” Schmitz said.

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