WILLMAR — Staff and patients are settling into the new children’s psychiatric hospital that opened earlier this month in Willmar.
The Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services hospital is the only state-owned and -operated facility of its type in Minnesota.
The hospital is designed for Minnesota children 4 to 18 years of age who have complex mental illness and behavioral disorders that are so severe the children cannot be treated in their home communities.
Construction of the $10 million, 18,000-square-foot facility, which is located on a nine-acre parcel near the intersection of U.S. Highway 71 and Civic Center Drive, started last June.
It opened June 9, about a week ahead of schedule, said Hospital Administrator Mike Gallagher.
A public open house had been planned prior to patients moving in, but COVID-19 put that to a halt, Gallagher said. He said it was disappointing not to be able to show the hospital’s host community “what we believe is a world-class space.”
A video virtual tour is being created to give people a look inside the hospital, said Christopher Sprung, from the Department of Human Services communications department.
The hospital was previously located on the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar in a building that Gallagher described as “antiquated” and not designed to deliver the type of therapeutic care the patients need.
Long hallways, limited sight lines, dim lighting and doors that needed to be locked and unlocked repeatedly to get kids from one place to another to meet with specialty providers created challenges, he said.
The new hospital has three wings and 16 private patient rooms, each with its own bathroom.
The open floor plan creates space for one-on-one therapy sessions, group sessions, a spacious gathering area next to the nurses station and quiet nooks and window seats for patients to have alone time, Gallagher said.
The space is “kid friendly” and “almost whimsical” with different colors, he said.
There is an area where families can spend time with their children and two outdoor courtyards for monitored play.
“To be in a facility that’s designed for the purpose is really a big change for us,” Gallagher said. “The building will work with them (staff and patients) instead of against them.”
Medical director Eve Berryhill, who is also a child and adolescent psychiatrist, said the old facility was loud and “echoey” and easily agitated kids. She said the space did not feel therapeutic and led some kids to believe they could not “get better” there.
The new hospital has “thoughtfully designed spaces” and “calming, peaceful areas,” that give kids a sense of security and the impression that it’s “a place that can help me,” she said.
Although the hospital has 16 beds, it’s currently funded to house eight patients with a staff of 40 full-time equivalent positions.
There are about a dozen Minnesota children on the waiting list to get in, according to Gallagher.
“There’s absolutely a need for this facility and we can fill 16 beds,” Gallagher said. “There’s definitely enough demand.”
Future funding to operate the facility at full capacity will depend on the state Legislature.
Rep. Dave Baker, of Willmar, said legislative funding to bring the hospital to full capacity is expected to be authorized next year. He said that will give Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services time to learn how to function in the new hospital before adding staff and additional patients.
Money to purchase playground equipment for the hospital was in the proposed bonding bill, but the Legislature adjourned the special session over the weekend without taking action on that bill.
Baker had high praise for the new hospital, calling it a “beautiful facility” and a “state-of-the-art children’s hospital that has amazing staff.”
He said a suite that allows family members to spend the night while visiting with their young child is one of the many aspects that makes this hospital special.
Having the hospital built in Willmar almost didn’t happen.
Baker said that in 2016, Gov. Mark Dayton had slated the Willmar hospital to be closed and a new one built in the metro area.
“This was a win for us in rural Minnesota,” said Baker, who lobbied to keep the hospital in Willmar.
The opening of the new Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services hospital is a “super proud moment for our area,” Baker said.