The University of Kansas Health System has purchased a former federal building in downtown Kansas City, Kan., and will transform it into a 47-bed inpatient mental health facility.
KU officials said the psychiatric unit will take up about half of the 220,000 square foot building at 901 North Fifth St. and that renovations, which will take about a year, will cost $61 million.
The five-story building used to be leased by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but has been largely vacant for the last five years.
“Through this purchase, the health system is making another significant investment in Wyandotte County," said Chris Ruder, KU Health's vice president for patient care services and associate chief nursing officer . “Most importantly, we will be able to help even more patients in our city, state and region who need mental and behavioral healthcare services.”
Federal officials decided in April 2011 to move more than 500 EPA employees from the downtown Kansas City, Kan., facility into the former headquarters of Applebee's in Lenexa. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City Kansas sued over the decision, claiming it violated an executive order aimed at using federal facilities to conserve existing cities by "weakening the city’s urban core and discouraging further development and redevelopment of the central business area, effectively undercutting its resurgence." The case was later dropped.
The building KU Health is buying sits on 4 acres just north of the Strawberrry Hill neighborhood, which is an emerging success story in the ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown Kansas City, Kan. The building was owned by 901 North Fifth Street LLC, which is managed by Urban America, an Arlington, Texas-based real estate company. It has an appraised value of just under $10 million.
Jason Norbury, the executive director of Downtown Shareholders of Kansas City, Kansas, said having KU Health bring in an infusion of renovation cash and hundreds of employees will help draw more commerce to the area.
It's a good thing for downtown, he said, but he expects residents and merchants will raise some concerns about it because it's a mental health facility.
"But I think that as we work with the University of Kansas Health System, bringing them in, we can address those concerns to make sure they feel (as) safe and secure in their neighborhood as they do today,” Norbury said.
KU Health spokeswoman Jill Chadwick said University of Kansas Police Department would provide security 24 hours a day and 365 days a year at the new facility.
"We are dedicated to the protection and safety of our patients, visitors, staff, students and neighbors," Chadwick said via email.
The new facility will be for short stays — five days on average — for conditions like major depression, anxiety disorder and post-partum depression. The goal will be to stabilize people there and then move them to outpatient services.
Chadwick said KU Health will use the other half of the building for administrative offices.
Mental health advocates say the facility is much needed after decades of reductions in psychiatric beds statewide.
Amy Campbell, a lobbyist for the Kansas Mental Health Coalition, said those reductions were due to both well-intentioned efforts to move away from long-term institutionalization and reimbursement cuts.
“Even after I started working for the mental health coalition, which was 15 years ago, there was a point where Kansas had close to 30 psychiatric inpatient units across the state in community hospitals," Campbell said. "Now we have something like 12 or 13.”
Campbell said Kansas needs about 300 more beds statewide.
The new KU Health facility, when operational, will replace the adult inpatient units on the hospital's main campus and Prairie Ridge Campus. Chadwick said that will result in a net gain of 17 beds.
Rick Cagan, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness' Kansas branch, said that's good news.
But he said more beds are still needed, especially for people who are uninsured or under-insured. He also said the best way to stem the state's growing demand for psychiatric beds is to improve access to housing, employment and outpatient treatment.
"Ultimately, at some point people do need short-term stays in hospitals," Cagan said. "But we need dramatic increases in both quantity and quality of outpatient treatment through our community mental health centers and other provider networks.”