A new behavioral health and crisis stabilization center in Juneau will help address the barriers many adolescents and adults currently face when experiencing a mental health emergency in Southeast Alaska, Bartlett Regional Hospital officials say.
On Wednesday the Aurora Behavioral Health Center located on the hospital’s campus was unveiled during an open house for Juneau residents and city officials who got the chance to explore the facility before it opens this fall.
The building — which has been in the works since 2019 — will offer the first crisis stabilization center for adolescents and adults in Southeast Alaska. When opened, adolescents and adults in Juneau will have 23-hour access to mental health and substance use care and services at the center — with the average length of stays expected to be 18 hours — along with short-term crisis residential stays of up to a week for patients who are unable to stabilize at the crisis stabilization center.
Alaska has long been among the national leaders in the rate in which people die by suicide and, according to recent data released by Alaska Public Health Analytics and Providence Hospital, the state currently leads the nation in the rate of young people who die by suicide.
According to hospital Board President Kenny Solomon-Gross, the new additional services in Juneau will open new doors for the city and the state in addressing the urgent mental health needs of residents young and old.
“I know that Bartlett staff and the whole community of Juneau are excited to be able to bring these types of wraparound services in the mental health arena to Juneau — it’s just amazing,” he said.
Solomon-Gross said the building’s name, “Aurora Behavioral Health Center,” was chosen based on a hospital-wide employee naming contest. The employee who came up with the idea paralleled the Aurora in the sky with mental health treatment and services because “they are both something that can guide and provide light in everyone on a healing path.”
“Two different staff submissions referred to Aurora as a light that can be seen during the darkest times — which is what we hope these new service lines will offer to people in crisis,” he said.
Hospital CEO David Keith said the reality is right now crisis stabilization and behavioral health services in Alaska are rare across the state, and he hopes the services now being provided by Juneau will ignite other communities to follow its lead.
“It is vital that we position ourselves to be the leader in providing behavioral health services to our community, to lead our state with the services and be a beacon to the national spotlight of our services that we deliver,” he said.
City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member Wade Bryson was one of the dozens of residents who walked the halls and explored the new building Wednesday evening. He said the services the building will offer to Juneau are “sorely needed.”
“I am super happy for the community, this has been a service that absolutely has been needed — it was a service that was lacking,” he said. “During the hardest times for families, they would have to send a family member outside of the city, but now they can get that help here in town and that makes all the difference.”
Jennifer Carson, interim executive director of the behavioral health center, said the building introduces around 15-20 new employment positions to Bartlett. So far about 50% of the positions have been filled.
“So just like everywhere else, especially here in Southeast Alaska, we’re struggling with staffing, but we’re finding solutions,” she said. “We’re really just looking for a provider and some additional nurses.”
Carson said the building is planned to have a “soft open” and begin providing its services by early fall if regulatory requirements allow. She said the services will open first to adolescents before it’s opened to adults.
“We know that that’s some of our biggest need in the community and the regional and statewide — it really is for adolescents and we’ll start from there,” she said.
Bartlett Chief Financial Officer Sam Muse said the building cost “just shy of $18 million,” which he noted is significantly higher than the original estimate of $10 million.
He attributed the higher final cost to inflationary pressures during COVID-19, prolonged construction time and the mid-construction decision to add a third floor to the building, which added new challenges and new unexpected costs.
He said the hospital hopes in the next year or so the revenue from the new services provided in the building will break even with the cost of construction. However, he said it’s likely during the first year the operation “may be a slight loss for the hospital.”
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651)-528-1807.