A New York-based firm’s plan to build a mental-health treatment hospital in downtown Lacey cleared major hurdles with state regulators last year.
Now it is the city of Lacey’s turn to decide if the 75-bed proposal from US HealthVest is appropriate in the downtown business district known as Woodland Square.
As proposed, the project would meet a dire need in our community for inpatient care for acute mental health issues. Many patients must go to other counties or out of state to get urgent care.
The Lacey hearings examiner is taking comments on US HealthVest’s permit request at 9 a.m. May 17 at City Hall . A city staff report completed this month identified no glaring reasons for the city to reject the permit, although it did recommend more than 60 conditions on the project.
Richard Kresch, president and chief executive for U.S. HealthVest, says the firm has options for a 30-year lease on land in Woodland Square, located in the city’s downtown core. The firm wants to renovate a vacant office structure into the new hospital, and he said it is committed to following through on the project.
Our community is served today by an 18-bed facility run by Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia. The state Department of Health says our county needs another 51 adult beds and 10 child or adolescent beds in the short term — and 80 beds by 2030.
That demand is why DOH granted approval, known as a certificate of need, to US HealthVest last year. Believing there is additional demand in outlying areas, the company has since asked for approval of an additional 40 beds, which the proposed structure can accommodate, according to Kresch.
Earlier this month DOH rejected a rival, 85-bed proposal from Providence St. Peter and its partner Fairfax Behavioral Health. The latter is the largest provider of in-patient psychiatric care in Washington state. The state found there is not enough additional need to justify the second facility, which was proposed to go in along Marvin Road.
A Providence spokesman said last week that no decision has been made yet on whether to appeal the DOH denial but that it is committed to all legal options for building a psychiatric hospital. The religiously affiliated hospital is also challenging the DOH permit for US HealthVest.
Providence makes the case that St. Peter has provided mental-health care for more than 150 years in the community and is well suited to carry out this work. We agree that is the case.
But the need for bed space is urgent, and Providence was too slow to respond. Many interests have already lined up behind US HealthVest, including the Thurston Chamber and Economic Development Council of Thurston County.
Kresch says the project would cost $22 million. It is expected to employ 147 people, including five or six physicians, with an operations budget of about $25 million a year.
The building to be renovated into a 78,808-square-foot secure hospital has been vacant since 2011. Giving new life to that structure will help shrink a surplus of city commercial office space that could take nine to 13 years to fill, according to a city analysis.
City analysis also shows at least 133 of the US HealthVest jobs would be paid at least $15 an hour and would be a “living wage” — above the level needed to support a single person. The city found most jobs would be paid enough to support at least a two-person household.
Kresch said the firm is committed to building and operating this project as well as addressing community safety concerns. He said hospital discharge procedures would prevent patients from being released directly onto the street or unaccompanied.
The city is right to impose firm conditions on the project — especially a requirement that patient discharges be designed to prevent patients from wandering in the business district or at nearby Huntamer Park, where kids play.
The facility is meant for patients in temporary crisis, and it would not accept violent felons or sex offenders, according to Kresch. He said the average patient stay would be eight days and patients would not be able to leave until they have a place to stay and someone to accompany them.
One concern in the city report is that the facility operators have agreements with police and fire responders for managing calls for emergency help. Others are that US HealthVest agrees not to object to noise from Huntamer park and that this agreement carries over to new owners if the facility is sold.
We would prefer to see firm commitments from HealthVest, which has developed and sold other properties, to retain management of the facility long term. Having beds operated by a firm that is committed to our community matters.