A multimillion-dollar project announced last fall aims to make a big difference in the mental health of Omaha-area kids and teens–and it already has expanded since first being made public.
In November, the Mental Health Innovation Foundation and officials from Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha announced plans to build an $89 million behavioral health facility on the Children’s Hospital campus near 84th and Dodge Streets. As part of its design, they hired New York-based conceptual architect Frank Pitts, who is nationally known for psychiatric health care facility planning. Project organizers also visited the Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Ken Stinson, the foundation’s president, said Pitts and the visit to Ohio gave leaders more ideas for the Omaha location. “The team (at Nationwide Children’s) was incredibly supportive, sharing information — what they would do differently if they were doing it again and what’s worked really well,” Stinson said.
The proposed Behavioral Health & Wellness Center at Children’s Hospital will have 38 inpatient beds with the potential to add 10 more. It will feature a behavioral health emergency assessment center, an outpatient eating disorder center and a pediatric primary care clinic with integrated outpatient mental health services. It will also include an expanded “partial hospitalization” program for individuals who no longer require in-patient treatment yet still need daily support and ongoing therapy.
The project, which has been expanded since being announced, now calls for a 107,250-square-foot, four-story building on a seven-acre lot. Its current budget is $110 million. Of that, $16 million will come from the State of Nebraska’s Building Mental Health Treatment Facilities Program, administered by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED). The Unicameral appropriated a total of $40 million for the program, which is funded by the Federal Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act. Children’s Hospital is contributing $15 million, and the rest will come from private donors. Stinson said organizers already have commitments for $103 million of the $110 million project cost.
Addressing mental health challenges has been Stinson’s focus for years. He and Rhonda Hawks were among a group who raised money to start Omaha’s Lasting Hope Recovery Center, an inpatient adult treatment center near downtown Omaha that opened in 2008. Mental health care has “been historically underfunded” said Stinson, who added that mental health issues have all too often been misunderstood and stigmatized, despite their “pervasive impact on our society, in adults and children.”
The financial support from the state meant a lot for the Children’s behavioral health project, Stinson said, and organizers are “incredibly grateful.” “It makes a big difference when we have gone to our donors and said, ‘Would you help support this facility’ and ‘By the way, the State’s got $16 million in this.’”
“Nebraskans know how to work together to make things happen,” said Joe Fox, DED’s Interim Director. “The public and private contributions to build mental healthcare capacity at Children’s Hospital are evidence of the spirit of teamwork that pervades our state. This project will increase the availability of services that are critically important to the mental well-being of Nebraska’s youth.”
A groundbreaking is scheduled for August 4th, and officials anticipate the project to be completed by the fall of 2025. HDR is the project architect and Kiewit Building Group Inc. is serving as contractor.