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Sedgwick County announces location for new state mental health hospital

A November 2018 riot at the Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility resulted in one inmate injury. No staff were injured, but five housing units were damaged.
File photo
Kansas News Service
Larned is one of two state mental hospitals in Kansas. Sedgwick County commissioners have approved a location for a third hospital in south Wichita.

The new hospital will be on the northwest corner of Meridian and MacArthur in south Wichita.

After months of gathering feedback, the Sedgwick County Commission moved forward Friday on finalizing a location for a new state mental health hospital.

The commission voted unanimously to begin negotiations to acquire an 11-acre plot of land on the northwest corner of Meridian and MacArthur in south Wichita.

The decision was made in conjunction with the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which will run the hospital.

“It’s really exciting. There’s a lot of work that went into this,” said Commissioner Sarah Lopez, whose district includes the site of the new hospital. “And really, what it means for the south side in particular, is a lot.

“That’s a health desert, so bringing health care to that area. And more police presence makes it a safer area. … So it’s a really big deal for the southside.”

Sedgwick County has $40 million – $15 million from Kansas’ budgetand $25 million from the state’s COVID relief funds – to build the new hospital. County staff plans for the building to be constructed by the end of 2026, which is when the federal COVID relief money must be spent.

A committee of county representatives and state officials created a shortlist of four potential hospital sites, which also included the intersection of Central and McLean and a location in Bel Aire. The site in south Wichita is near a highway, which is one of the reasons commissioners say it stood out.

The land is also being donated to the county by the Lange Community Foundation, which is connected to developer Jeff Lange.

“There's a lot of factors that made this location ideal,” Lopez said. “... However, the donation of the land, it's a really nice piece to add onto it. It just helps put it over the edge.”

The county and state will now move forward with designing the facility.

“All of us on the review committee and involved in the site selection process are excited to continue progress toward building the regional hospital,” Scott Brunner, a deputy secretary for the Department for Aging and Disability Services, said in a news release.

Lopez and Commissioner David Dennis said they hope to hold a town hall meeting with the community near MacArthur and Meridian to alleviate any concerns about the hospital.

“This is really a secure facility,” Dennis said. “People can’t just wander out of that facility. It’s basically like a jail.”

The county has been seeking a state-run mental health hospital in south-central Kansas for years. Commissioners say that’s because many people are waiting in the Sedgwick County jail for a mental health evaluation because of waiting lists at the state’s other mental health hospitals.

A 2019 mental health task force also recommended to the Kansas Legislature that the state needed 221 new regional or state hospital beds for mental health treatment.

The hospital in Sedgwick County will provide at least 50 of those beds. But the site is large enough to expand the hospital to include 100 beds.

Lopez said the state advisory panel overseeing the planning of the hospital is hoping for the maximum number of beds.

“It would be really hard if we do 50 today, to try to come back in a few years and ask for millions more to expand,” Lopez said.

Half of the facility’s beds will serve acute mental health patients, while the other will be for people who have been charged with a crime and ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation by a judge.

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.
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