The Lacey City Council’s approval of a psychiatric hospital permit in the downtown marks an important and welcome step for acute mental-health care in Thurston County.
The project by New York-based US HealthVest ultimately means adequate space is coming to our community for those needing inpatient care for acute mental illnesses. The state Department of Health says Thurston County needs another 51 adult beds and 10 child or adolescent beds in the short term — and 80 beds by 2030. That is in addition to the 18 beds now operated by Providence St. Peter Hospital.
HealthVest’s goal is to open its South Sound Behavioral Health Hospital with at least 75 beds in 2018.
In approving the conditional use permit, which a city hearings examiner had recommended, the Lacey council imposed additional, but warranted, conditions on the $22 million project. Operators must provide an operations and communications plan that ensures impacts on city fire and police departments are well-managed.
Richard Kresch, president and chief executive officer for HealthVest, has reported holding a 30-year option on the vacant office building at 605 Woodland Square Loop SE, which he intends to renovate soon. The all-ages hospital site is near Huntamer Park in the city’s core and also next to the Intercity Transit station, which makes it easier for the hospital’s estimated 150 future employees to ride transit to work.
Because most patients will arrive by ambulance and by referral, the other major impacts should be from hospital staff and visitors.
How large of a hospital US HealthVest can operate initially is still unclear. The company won approval last year from the state Department of Health, which certified there is adequate demand in our South Sound region to support a 75-bed facility.
But the structure targeted for renovation could accommodate up to 40 more beds, if DOH approves a pending request for a larger facility, according to Kresch.
Meantime, DOH rejected a certificate request by Providence St. Peter Hospital, which operates a small psychiatric unit and has proposed to build a new 85-bed psychiatric hospital east of the city to replace the smaller facility it has in Olympia.
In retrospect, Providence and its partner Fairfax Behavioral Health, which is the largest provider of in-patient psychiatric care in Washington, were simply too slow to respond to the growing need for psychiatric care. US HealthVest basically got there first.
In a perfect world there would be room for both organizations’ facilities. But DOH says there isn’t at this time.
It is heartening that Providence issued a statement before the City Council vote on July 13 that it has no intention of further challenging or appealing the HealthVest conditional use permit.
We encourage Providence and Fairfax to avoid making challenges that simply delay the opening of South Sound Behavioral Health Hospital.
Providence has earned its place as a major local player in health services, and we hope it remains so for years to come. Meanwhile, Providence deserves a lot of credit for its long history as a provider of health care and the key role it is playing in opening a downtown Olympia triage and referral center for the mentally ill this year.