Overnight mental health crisis center for kids and teens gets initial approval on rezoning request

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A facility that aims to fill in a gap in mental health services for Lawrence kids and teens secured a key approval Wednesday evening.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission voted unanimously in favor of Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s rezoning request for the 1-acre property at 3500 Clinton Place.

The building was previously home to LMH Health South. The facility would become a satellite location for Bert Nash, including medical office space, therapy spaces, day group therapy, associated services and overnight respite care, according to the meeting agenda item.

The rezoning request was intended to allow overnight stays for kids and teens in crisis to stabilize. Currently, Douglas County has no such facility. That means families can face long waits at LMH Health, after which kids are referred to an out-of-county facility, depending on where a bed is available.

Patrick Schmitz, CEO of Bert Nash, told planning commissioners Wednesday that the lack of such a facility creates inequities in care for children.

People of all ages can walk into the Treatment and Recovery Center, but once it’s determined that a child or teen needs an overnight stay, they have to go a long ways away, “which disrupts the family connection and involvement in their care,” he said.

Members of the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission look to member Pedro Borroto, far left, as the commission discusses a rezoning request from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, Aug. 23, 2023. (Screenshot / City of Lawrence YouTube)

Schmitz said the three-level building would include community services, clinic space and psychiatric services on the lower two levels; the third level would be a six- to eight-bed crisis intervention and respite care unit that could allow for stays of three to five days.

The center would also offer intensive outpatient programming for kids who are experiencing severe anxiety, depression and substance use challenges, a service that is not currently available in Douglas County, Schmitz said.

“What we’re trying to create is a new level of care available in our community,” he said, before the power went out at City Hall.

Planning Commission member Pedro Borroto said the plan for the facility made him feel happy for the community.

“When we were kids, we were just in a different society,” he said, saying that when he sees his children struggle, he wishes they could have what he had when he was growing up. “… I’m happy to see something like this coming into our community.”

No members of the public gave comment on the request during the meeting.

Once city staff and commission members got resettled at the Riverfront building where the power was still on, they asked a few more questions of Schmitz before voting in favor of the rezoning request.

Schmitz said there shouldn’t be much traffic in and out of the facility at night, and the volume of traffic during the day would probably be similar to what LMH South had. He said he didn’t think there were any concerns about public safety, and kids and adolescents inside the facility wouldn’t be leaving without staff or parents.

“We are pleased and grateful for the Planning Commission’s support of the rezoning application,” Schmitz said via email Wednesday night. “This is an important step in realizing the vision of bringing much-needed, life-saving services to the youth of our community.”

The request will go next to the Lawrence City Commission for consideration.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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