Mental health facility on Children's Hospital campus breaks ground; next challenge is staffing

Posted at 7:08 PM, Aug 04, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Construction will get underway soon at an empty lot just south of Dodge Street on a $110 million investment in youth mental health.

It'll be called the Behavioral Health and Wellness Center at Children's.

The "world-class" facility will include 38 in-patient beds. This would double the area's current capacity, project leaders say.

Funding comes from private and public funds, including the American Rescue Plan Act via the state, Omaha, Children's Hospital and private donors.

But building the facility is only part of the process. It also needs to be staffed, of course.

Staffing "is a big challenge," said Creighton Department of Psychiatry head Raj Tampi. "There are not enough providers that are being trained right now in psychiatry."

The Mental Health Innovation Foundation, a local nonprofit run by philanthropist Ken Stinson, is managing the planning, fundraising, and construction of the center, but Children's will operate it.

"It's really gonna be transformational for the care that we can provide," said Chanda Chacón, Children's CEO.

She said a big part of the project is supporting workforce development with high school and higher education programs. Plus, a nationwide search is already underway for a leader for the facility, which will help get the facility ready well before day one.

"We're very hopeful that they will be here in the next several months," she said, "Which will be amazing to really start that work in true earnest over the next few years."

Too often, she said, youth who need in-patient mental health care are sent hours away.

"That makes a lot of challenges for families who may not be able to travel out of state with their child," she said.

The facility will also include what project leaders say will be a first-of-its-kind for the region, a screening and crisis stabilization center.


The Mental Health Innovation Foundation (MHIF), led by community leader and philanthropist Ken Stinson, begins the construction phase of the Behavioral Health & Wellness Center at Children’s with a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday, offering a first look at renderings of the future building. As the mental health needs of Omaha area youth increase, the vision of the Center is to create a beacon of hope for children and families providing a collaborative world-class model of comprehensive behavioral and mental health services, co-located with medical health needs.

The need for more mental health services for area youth is clear and sobering. Even before the onset of COVID-19, 1 in 5 children was experiencing a mental illness, and the pandemic has led to increased mental health challenges and suicide risk among children. Nationwide, mental health-related emergency room visits are up 24% among children ages 5 to 11 and 31% among those 12 to 17 years old. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for youths, and, unfortunately, Nebraska exceeds national trends for number of suicide deaths in adolescents ages 15 to 19.

When the new comprehensive mental health facility opens in early 2026, the Center will be a 107,250-square-foot, four-story building with 38 inpatient beds on a seven-acre lot on the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center campus. The project budget is $110 million, funded by donors who recognize the need for expanding children and adolescent mental health services in the Omaha area, along with the State of Nebraska through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the City of Omaha, and Children’s.

“It is exciting to break ground and begin the construction phase of the Behavioral Health & Wellness Center at Children’s,” Stinson said. “The collaborative nature of this project and the support of our generous donors have led to innovative plans that will serve the mental health and wellness needs of our children extraordinarily well.”

The Behavioral Health & Wellness Center at Children’s will offer a seamless continuum of care for children, teens, and families, offering services to address a wide range of mental health challenges. The world-class features of the Center include:

• 38 single occupancy hospital inpatient beds that will more than double the capacity in our community.
• 10,000 square feet Assessment Center that will be a screening and crisis stabilization center for children and families who are facing a broad range of mental health challenges. It will be one of a small number of similar centers in the U.S. and will be the first of its kind in our region.
• a dramatic increase in the current capacity for outpatient Partial Hospitalization treatment in our community. Partial Hospitalization services are a hybrid between inpatient care and periodic outpatient care. Kids in Partial Hospitalization would come to the Center 5 days a week for around 8 hours a day to receive both therapy and educational support. This new facility will have a capacity to serve up to 40 kids at a time.
• an experiential kitchen for patients and families dealing with eating disorders.
• over 14,000 square feet of space for general outpatient therapy and pediatric care.
• nearly 8,000 square feet of shell space to expand or accommodate new programs in the future, including added inpatient beds should the need arise.

“There is no doubt the Behavioral Health & Wellness Center at Children’s will be world-class and have significant value with mental and medical services co-located on the same campus,” said Chanda Chacón, Children’s President & Chief Executive Officer. “We are proud to partner with the Mental Health Innovation Foundation to make comprehensive pediatric mental health care a reality for families in our community.”

MHIF seeks to collaboratively address growing mental health challenges in children and teens and convened a community stakeholder steering committee, including Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, CHI Health Immanuel, Boys Town, and Creighton University, among other community organizations, to collaboratively address growing mental health challenges for children and teens. MHIF has selected Kiewit Building Group Inc. as the design-builder of the Center, with HDR as its design partner.

Download our apps today for all of our latest coverage.

Get the latest news and weather delivered straight to your inbox.