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Benton County to buy old hospital, create a mental health and addiction recovery center

Tri-City Herald - 10/31/2022

Oct. 31—Benton County is set to become the owner on Tuesday of the former Kennewick General Hospital building on Auburn Street.

The building is planned to be used as a recovery center campus for patients with mental health and addiction issues, along with a nearby building the county will lease to provide some additional inpatient services.

Benton County Commissioners on Friday authorized the signing of closing documents to buy the 123,000-square-foot building from LifePoint Health for $1.6 million. It's expected to close on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Efforts toward creating a recovery center for the Tri-Cities began with a grassroots effort in 2018 as Michele Gerber, who lost her son to drug addiction, started the Benton Franklin Recovery Coalition.

The Kennewick Public Hospital Board then took on the mission of providing comprehensive mental health services for the Tri-Cities area, with Benton County stepping in with the resources to make the recovery center a reality.

The commissioners in both Benton and Franklin counties approved a 0.1% sales tax increase to pay for operating a new center.

Restrictions on hospital sale

LifePoint Health agreed to sell the building for a recovery center, but has long said that there would be restrictions on services that could compete with those it already offers in the Tri-Cities as the owner of Trios Health and Lourdes Health.

The sale of the building comes with a restriction that prohibits inpatient mental health care for longer than 72 hours for adults.

As a result, Benton County is in the final steps of negotiating a lease for space not far from the hospital building to provide some services that would be difficult to offer under that restriction.

The lease is close to being finalized and an announcement could be made in a few weeks, said Matt Rasmussen, deputy county administrator.

He also expects to request proposals for managing services for the leased site this week.

The leased space will serve as an entry point into the new mental health and addiction treatment center and is expected to offer crisis stabilization, secure withdrawal and inpatient detoxification.

It will serve as a drop-off point for law enforcement for people who need to detox or are in mental health crisis.

People in crisis can also walk in or be brought into the facility by family members, Rasmussen said.

Continuing services would then be offered at the old Kennewick General Hospital building site.

Services planned at hospital building

The county envisions a campus of services related to mental health and addiction recovery, with providers recruited to lease space in the Auburn Street building.

Plans now call for it to include transitional housing for people coming out of the recovery, Rasmussen said.

The county would also like to have youth behavioral health services there. The 72-hour restriction on inpatient mental health services applies only to adults.

The county will be looking for providers for those two services first.

Counseling and other services provided there will depend on who is interested in leasing space.

The county also has negotiated permission to use some space there for the Benton Franklin Health District, although no decision on moving services there has been made.

Rasmussen expects to have all services at the leased building in place in 2025, although some services could be phased in earlier. It also will be working on opening services at the Auburn Street campus in the meantime.

Paying for the hospital, improvements

The old hospital building will require upgrades.

The original portion of the building the county is purchasing opened as a community-owned hospital in 1952.

When Trios Health expanded to a new campus in south Kennewick in 2014, the original building in the downtown Kennewick area remained in use as the Trio's Women's and Children's Hospital.

About 1,400 babies were born there each year until LifePoint Health closed the building and opened a new birth center on the Trios Southridge Hospital campus.

An inspection found the Auburn Street structure and its roof to be sound, Rasmussen said. But the heating and cooling system, electrical and mechanical systems will need to be upgraded.

That could be done in phases as services are added and space remodeled for each.

The purchase cost of the building and remodeling and upgrades for both the old hospital building and the separate leased space nearby will be paid for with $1.5 million the Washington state Legislature approved in its last session, $7 million in state and federal funds, and $5 million set aside in American Rescue Plan Act for the county.

Operating costs and the lease of the second facility will be covered by the new sales tax.

This story was originally published October 31, 202212:12 PM.


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