The former Juneau Youth Services building was recently purchased by JAHMI Health and Wellness Inc. and is set to be renovated into specialized behavioral health care for children, adolescents and their families. The renovations, expected to be complete in May, are funded by an $870,000 allocation earmarked in the recently passed $1.7 trillion spending bill. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

The former Juneau Youth Services building was recently purchased by JAHMI Health and Wellness Inc. and is set to be renovated into specialized behavioral health care for children, adolescents and their families. The renovations, expected to be complete in May, are funded by an $870,000 allocation earmarked in the recently passed $1.7 trillion spending bill. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

New youth behavioral health facility set to open in Juneau this spring

Renovations to begin “as soon as possible,” funded by omnibus spending package allocation.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correctly spell JAMHI Health and Wellness Inc.

Buried within the massive $1.7 trillion spending bill passed by the Senate Thursday, was $870,000 earmarked to fund the renovations of a Juneau facility, which according to JAMHI Health and Wellness Inc. CEO Dave Branding will provide specialized behavioral health care for children, adolescents and their families.

[Icebreaker plan hits snag after funding cut]

The building set to be renovated, the former Juneau Youth Services building off Jordan Avenue, was purchased by JAMHI Health and Wellness Inc., this October. According to Branding, renovations are set to begin “as soon as possible,” and the nonprofit hopes to see the facility up and running by May of the new year.

Branding said the intention of the new facility is to provide “expanded easy access and integrated care” for specialty behavioral health services and integrated primary care facility for youth in the Juneau community and youth transitioning back from institutions. Branding said he expects to hire around 20 staff to work on site including clinicians, case managers and wellness specialists.

The care includes children and adolescent case management services, recovery support services, individual and family therapy, medication management, psychiatric evaluation, therapeutic behavioral health services and physical and mental wellness services — all services that have been overburdened or nearly nonexistent in Juneau and across the state of Alaska.

“It’s clear that there is a significant need for services for children and adolescents and families in our community and we’re building out our capacity to the community to meet that need,” Branding said.

A recent investigation report published mid-December by the U.S. Department of Justice found there was reasonable cause to believe that the state of Alaska failed to provide services to children with behavioral health disabilities in settings appropriate to their needs, especially in rural communities and for Alaska Native youths, and often worsened its patients’ problems by keeping them institutionalized for long periods of time and away from home.

[DOJ: Alaska illegally institutionalizing troubled kids]

Another study published by 2022 Kids Count Data Book earlier this year, found that Alaska has seen a drastic rise in the percentage of children experiencing mental health struggles including anxiety and depression, with children and teens between the ages of 3-17 were found to have a 51.9% increase in the number struggling with anxiety and depression in Alaska between 2016 and 2020.

Branding said the idea to develop the new facility has been under consideration ever since the corporation’s first children and adolescents facility opened two years ago, which he said has seen community demand exceed capacity since first opening its doors and it continues to grow rapidly.

Over the course of 2022, Branding said its facility saw more than 100 youth patients and their families and during that time the average wait period for an initial assessment was more than a week out, which he said is often far too long for the kind t of help needed.

“We have not been able to get people off the waiting list timely — we’ve had people waiting since we opened our doors two years ago,” Branding said. “We’ve had demand exceed capacity for the past two years.”

JAMHI Health and Wellness Inc. also provides care for adult patients in Juneau, which due to its much more robust available facility capacity, has been able to provide same-day access to the adults requesting care. Branding said achieving the ability to provide same-day care for adults has been a major step in the right direction to prevent higher level, more expensive and potentially-traumatizing care. He said with the new facility coming soon, it will hopefully achieve the same results for the children and adolescents.

“By having specialty behavioral health services along with health services for their body, they are more likely to engage in that care and prevent more serious illnesses — mental illness and physical illness,” Branding said.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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