One of the biggest hurdles facing local leaders in their bid to bring a new mental health treatment facility online was finding a site for short term treatment.
But that problem has been solved.
The future Benton County Behavioral Health and Recovery Center will encompass two locations that straddle Washington Street in Kennewick, WA — One in the old Kennewick General Hospital building and the other in a facility on East Bruneau Avenue.
The two sites are about a mile apart.
Benton County will lease a part of the old Welch juice facility in downtown Kennewick that will serve as the future “no wrong door” intake for residents experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis. It will serve as a drop-off point for law enforcement, or walk-in point, for people who need to detox or are in mental health crisis.
The facility is at 10 East Bruneau Ave., said Benton County Deputy Administrator Matt Rasmussen. It’s unclear which of the buildings on the site they would be leasing.
The county recently approved the sale agreement to buy the old 190,000-square-foot KGH facility, but with a stipulation that prohibits adult inpatient mental health care longer than 72 hours for adults on the site.
The Bruneau facility will service short-term stays with an estimated 32 beds on site, Rasmussen said. But before that, it will need to undergo substantial renovation that may take up to two years to finish.
“This is something that’s been needed in this community. That’s not to say there aren’t programs in the community, but they’re not fulfilling the entire need,” he said.
Mayors, city staff, and county officials celebrated the KGH acquisition with a 5-minute news conference Thursday morning to give a bird’s-eye view of the project.
The long-awaited project is being funded with $9 million in grants from the state Legislature and $5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding from Benton County. A 0.1% sales tax increase in both Benton and Franklin counties will fund the center’s operations.
Once fully open, the new Benton County Behavioral Health and Recovery Center will provide treatment assessment, medical withdrawal treatment detox, residential inpatient treatment, recovery housing, job training assistance and youth services.
“It’s a great day for the entire Tri-Cities. All of us are going to benefit from this center,” said Dr. Michele Gerber, president of the Benton Franklin Recovery Coalition, wearing a button of her son’s face on her maroon Tommy Hilfiger sweater. James Stenehjem died of an addiction eight years ago, at the age of 36.
“We are going to have less crime, lower jail and court costs, lower hospital costs and shorter waiting times in hospital and emergency rooms because frequent overdose cases should go down,” she continued.
Gerber said “thousands of treatment dollars” leave the Tri-Cities every year, and the Recovery Center will serve as a magnet to families who otherwise have to seek treatment in Western Washington or out of state. It will bolster the economy, she said.
“And all those benefits are in addition to the benefits that will immediately accrue to addicted people and their families. The Tri-Cities deserve great things, and this center is going to be great,” she said.
An average of one Tri-City resident dies every five days from addiction, Gerber said. That does not include the many people who die annually of other ailments, such as kidney failures or infections from used needles.
About 70% of people fighting addiction also work, Gerber said.
Benton County is currently soliciting proposal requests for the Recovery Center, with a deadline of Dec. 9.
Rasmussen said the KGH building is not “move-in ready,” but it’s a suitable building and renovations will not be substantial.
Benton County plans to open its Recovery Center in early 2025. Some services will likely be offered sooner.
The county envisions a campus of services related to mental health and addiction recovery, with providers recruited to lease space in the Auburn Street building.
Plans now call for it to include transitional housing for people coming out of the recovery, Rasmussen said.
The county would also like to have youth behavioral health services there. The 72-hour restriction on inpatient mental health services applies only to adults.
The county will be looking for providers for those two services first.
Counseling and other services provided there will depend on who is interested in leasing space.
The county also has negotiated permission to use some space there for the Benton Franklin Health District, although no decision on moving services there has been made.