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As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal
Reporter: David Wahlberg

Strategic Behavioral Health, which last year announced plans to build a 72-bed psychiatric hospital in the Madison area, is seeking $1.2 million in assistance from the city of Middleton to locate the facility on Deming Way.

The Middleton City Council this week endorsed the concept of giving $1.2 million in tax incremental financing for the hospital, planned for 3169 Deming Way, in the Airport Road Business Park.

The city’s Plan Commission will hold public hearings April 10 on a conditional-use permit and a zoning amendment. The project could go before the City Council for approval as early as April 17, said Mark Opitz, assistant planning director.

Strategic Behavioral Health, a for-profit company based in Memphis, Tennessee, plans to spend $17 million to $20 million on the seven-acre site and construction of a one-story hospital with about 55,000 square feet of space, according to documents filed with the city of Middleton.

The company has 10 psychiatric hospitals in six states, including Willow Creek Behavioral Health, which opened last year in Green Bay. It plans to open other facilities this year in Kingsport, Tennessee, and next year in Bettendorf, Iowa, adding two more states to its reach.

In Dane County, services will include inpatient psychiatric care — on a voluntary and involuntary basis — for children, adolescents, adults and seniors, along with chemical dependency treatment for adults, the company said. Partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient care also will be provided for children, adolescents and adults.

The company, which could start building the facility by July, says Dane County needs 207 more psychiatric hospital beds. It hasn’t explained its rationale for that number.

Currently, hospitals in the county have about 90 psychiatric beds, which operators say are mostly, but not completely, full. The state-run Mendota Mental Health Institute has nearly another 300 beds, but they are reserved for criminal cases — except for a 15-bed civil geriatric unit.

Strategic Behavioral Health said its nationwide needs analysis for inpatient psychiatric services looked at metro areas with at least 300,000 people and considered existing psychiatric beds, cost of construction, operating costs, access to staff and reimbursement.

Of more than 100 markets assessed, “Dane County was in the top 10,” the company said.

The Middleton site is near two day care centers. Some day care operators have expressed concerns about having a psychiatric hospital nearby, but city staff and police support the project, Opitz said.

Plans for the psychiatric hospital come as Dane County is embarking on a study of its mental health services. A consultant is expected to be selected by June, with the study possibly lasting until next year, Lynn Green, the county’s Human Services director, said Thursday.

Among other topics, the study is expected to assess whether a crisis restoration center is needed, as some advocates say, to help keep people with mental health crises out of jail and quickly connect them with services. The new psychiatric hospital could provide a similar service, Green said.

“I’m really supportive of what Strategic Behavioral Health can bring to the community,” she said.

Meanwhile, police have complained about having to transport many mentally ill patients to Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh since the state stopped taking most non-criminal patients at Mendota in 2014. It’s possible some of those patients could be taken to the psychiatric hospital in Middleton instead, advocates and police have said.

From 2014 to 2016, among nine Dane County police agencies, transports to Winnebago cost more than $330,000, including nearly $151,000 for the Dane County Sheriff’s Office and nearly $61,000 for the Madison Police Department, according to the Dane County Chiefs of Police Association.

Strategic Behavioral Health said its psychiatric hospital in Middleton would reduce jail-related mental health expenses and law enforcement transportation costs in the county.