$50 million behavioral health facility for kids planned for north-central Omaha | Health

OMAHA — A nonprofit group has begun planning an estimated $50 million inpatient behavioral health facility for children on the campus of Immanuel Medical Center in north-central Omaha.

The center will be operated by CHI Health.

Omaha philanthropist Ken Stinson said the facility will have 36 to 40 beds and serve children ages 5 to 18 who are experiencing mental health challenges. That’s double the 18 beds for children and adolescents currently available at Immanuel.

Stinson, former Kiewit Corporation chairman and CEO, said he took the lead on the project about nine months ago, based on his interest in mental health care. He has formed a nonprofit group to plan, design and raise money for the facility.

The notion of building a new mental health center for adolescents has been in the works for four or five years, he said. But the need recently has become clearer.

There is a general consensus that the increase in mental health problems among young people has been going on for a decade or more, Stinson said. Some see social media as a main contributor to the problem, and experts agree the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated it.

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“I think it’s an important issue,” Stinson said, “and it’s become more important with the ramifications of the pandemic.”

Indeed, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory in December to highlight the urgent need to address the nation’s mental health crisis among youths.

In early 2021, emergency room visits in the U.S. for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher for adolescent girls and 4% higher for adolescent boys compared to the same period in 2019, according to research cited in the advisory. From 2009 to 2019, the proportion of high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40%, and the share seriously considering attempting suicide increased by 36%.

Stinson and Rhonda Hawks, another Omaha philanthropist and mental health advocate, led a previous campaign that in 2008 led to the opening of the 64-bed Lasting Hope Recovery Center, an inpatient adult treatment center near downtown.

Lasting Hope Recovery Center also is operated by CHI Health, which is the largest provider of inpatient mental health care in Nebraska.

The group is staying on brand with the new facility, which will be called the Lasting Hope Center for Children and Families.

Stinson said he put together a team of health care professionals, business leaders and educators to develop the plan for the facility. The group hired HDR Inc. to conduct a study on the demand for beds. It also has completed a study of the mental health care workforce in Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare, which covers Douglas, Sarpy, Cass, Dodge and Washington counties.

In addition, the group is working with educators at Metropolitan Community College, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Creighton University, Bellevue University and Iowa Western Community College, who are focusing on ways to expand their output of mental health care workers.

Stinson said it is still early, but the collaborators are becoming comfortable that they will be able to staff the new facility when it opens, likely in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, the group has hired Kiewit to serve as contractor and HDR to design the facility. A portion of the estimated $50 million cost will be covered by a share of the $40 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds designated for mental health projects in the state. The Legislature last week approved LB1014, which lays out how the state’s share of those federal dollars are to be spent.

Stinson said the group has other “preliminary commitments” from other potential funders. Fundraising will begin in the next several months.

The group also is looking at state-of-the-art facility design and best practices, working with a group from Boston led by Dr. David Rubin, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital/McLean Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Residency Training Program.

Robin Conyers, CHI Health’s vice president of behavioral health services, said the current pediatric psychiatric unit at Immanuel was set up on a medical-surgical floor. It has no access to the outdoors.

Children and families currently come through the hospital’s emergency room to get to the unit, which isn’t necessarily an ideal experience for kids and families in crisis.

The new facility will have a pediatric assessment center, where kids can be seen and stabilized and either admitted or referred for other care. The facility also will consolidate all of the campus’ child services, Conyers said, creating a one-stop shop for families and providing a full continuum of training opportunities for Creighton University child psychiatry residents and fellows.

Conyers said the new facility will have all private rooms. The existing unit has semiprivate rooms. That can create capacity challenges, given the need to avoid mixing patients of different genders and ages.

“We know that we’ve had these services in our organization for 100 years,” Conyers said, “but what we’re currently doing is not enough, and the pandemic has exacerbated that for us. … We’re honored to have the opportunity to provide this to our community.”


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