Construction begins at Juneau’s Bartlett Hospital, $14 million behavioral health building to come by next winter

 

The remains of the Bartlett Outpatient Psychiatric Services building on July 8, in Juneau. (Claire Stremple/KTOO)

Contractors for Juneau’s Bartlett Regional Hospital broke ground on a multi-million dollar expansion project last month. The new building will hold the regional hub’s ballooning behavioral health program.

There’s a rubble strewn hole where Bartlett’s Outpatient Psychiatric Services used to be. Downhill, an excavator moves new rock into what will be the foundation for a $14 million dollar upgrade.

But when Bartlett’s Chief Behavioral Health Officer Bradley Grigg looks at the construction site, he sees a four story building that will house the hospital’s fastest growing department.

“So the patient rooms from crisis will be on the back of the facility facing the channel,” Grigg says, gesturing over Glacier Highway towards Gastineau Channel.

He’s not just excited about therapeutic views of Juneau’s waterfront. The behavioral health department has more than 10 times as many patients now as it did in September of 2019.

So, the building that will fill the space on the hillside below him will be nearly ten times the size of what was here before. It will house the 150-person behavioral health staff already working in the hospital and ideally have enough patient capacity to eliminate or reduce wait lists.

“This is really going to be a game changer in terms of access to treatment for people as they walk in. It’s on demand. It’s 24/7, it’s staffed 24/7. Psychiatry, therapist, behavioral health associates, nursing staff,” he said.

The hospital is taking on its biggest capital project in a decade because it doesn’t have enough room to house what Grigg calls an “unrelenting” influx of patients.

Right now, the behavioral health department has only one inpatient bed for youth—it has about 2 dozen for adults. The new facility will add 8 beds that can be used for adults or children. Currently, behavioral health patients who need to stay in a hospital must travel to Anchorage.

“We don’t want to be shipping them out north, doesn’t mean that it still won’t happen on occasion. But our ultimate goal is to serve any kid from Juneau and Southeast to come to our unit. In an effort to keep them as close to home community as possible. We know that if they’re closer, they’ll get better treatment,” said Grigg.

Even as hospital administration sat down with the final plans for the new building this year, they realized the hospital had already outgrown the unbuilt structure. They decided to add an entire floor. The cost of the additional floor was quickly accepted by the assembly and the hospital board. It will house 15 offices for therapists, nursing staff, and a case manager.

Jeanne Rynn is the city architect with the City and Borough of Juneau’s Engineering Department. Contractors broke ground on the project last month.

“The architectural team is working on the drawings right now to add the third floor. So you know, it’s very unusual to be designing the building while you’re building part of it, and they’re trying to stay ahead of the construction schedule,” she said.

Sky-high lumber prices precipitated another last minute change to the final plan. Architects finished designing the foundation footprint for what is now a steel structure in early July. Rynn says it’s been a little stressful, but the finished building will be worth the effort.

“I think the end result is going to serve the community well, so it’s a worthwhile cause for a good long term goal. And once the building is there, nobody’s going to care about what we went through to get it there. You know, that’s history. It takes on a life of its own at that point,” said Rynn.

The cost of the additional floor was quickly accepted by the assembly and the hospital board. It will house 15 offices for therapists, nursing staff, and a case management manager.

Grigg and his team secured about $5 million in outside funding for the project. The hospital will foot the bill for the remaining $9 million dollars, with approval from the Juneau assembly and its own board.

The goal is to have the exterior of the building up by the end of this season, so work can continue inside through the winter. Construction on the building is tentatively slated to be complete by winter of next year.

 

Clarification: This article has been updated to include the total bed count for the behavioral health department.

Claire Stremple

Alaska News Reporter, KTOO

I believe every Alaskan has a right to timely information about their health and health systems, and their natural environment and its management. My goal is to report thoughtful stories that inform, inspire and quench the curiosity of listeners across the state.

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