Rise in New Behavioral Health Care Facilities

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As hospitals grapple with financial challenges caused by the Affordable Care Act and new federal reimbursement rules, some health care systems continue to build or plan to construct new behavioral health facilities.

According to the 2013 construction survey sponsored by Health Facilities Management and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering, 11 percent of respondents said behavioral health services projects are either currently under construction or are planned for the next three years at their respective health care systems or hospitals.

Of the types of facilities planned, 21 percent of survey respondents said new buildings; replacement, 17 percent; and expansion or renovation, 62 percent. An in-depth report on the survey begins on page 14.

As with hospitals in general, new behavioral health facilities emphasize patient safety and healing in an environment that resembles home, unlike many of the dreary mental health institutions of the past.

Gundersen Lutheran, La Crosse, Wis., was scheduled to start admitting patients this month to its new 34-bed inpatient behavioral health center.

The new facility offers private rooms for all patients, abundant windows for providing natural light, and soft colors and artwork for a more relaxing environment, says Kelly Barton, vice president, health system operations at Gundersen.

Ironically, the increase in new facilities comes as many states, communities and even other health care systems, cut mental health services. Of 71 counties in Wisconsin, only 17 offer inpatient psychiatric care and the number of beds has dropped from 13,000 to 2,000, Barton says.

"It's not a moneymaker, it's not a place where health care is going to make money," she says about behavioral health care services in general. "Gundersen Lutheran listened to the community, which said this is a need in our community."

A new $36 million, eight-story behavioral health facility that opened in December at Regions Hospital, St. Paul, Minn., offers more privacy for adult patients and their families. The new facility doubles the space of the prior outdated facility, originally built as a nursing student dormitory in 1964. …