County discusses potential new residential, outpatient treatment facility

Published 6:00 am Friday, August 19, 2022

ST. JOSEPH – The need for a new residential and outpatient treatment facility in the county was addressed at Thursday’s Berrien County Board of Commissioners’ Committee of the Whole meeting. While no firm decision has been made, commissioners are considering partnering with others to build a new facility on Napier Avenue in Benton Township. 

Spectrum Health Lakeland President Dr. Loren Hamel told commissioners Thursday that Spectrum currently leases space to and supports the Sacred Heart/Serenity Hills treatment program in the former Berrien General Hospital facility near Berrien Springs. 

“The Berrien General building is at the end of its life,” Hamel said. “We can’t return it to a useful shape without tearing it down and rebuilding … I want to alert you that we’re at a critical juncture, we need to find another home for them to have them continue.” 

He said that a feasibility study has shown that Serenity Hills needs a 14,000 square foot building that would cost $5.5 million to build. The new building would have space for detoxification, residential and outpatient services. 

Hamel said Berrien County has been fortunate to have the Serenity Hills facility here as such residential programs are not available in many parts of the state and the country. “It’s hard to find services, we’re fortunate to have this,” he said. “If we didn’t have this facility, it would be extremely hard to find a place for people who need it.” 

He noted that it serves not only this county but surrounding counties, with 28 inpatient beds and up to 1,100 submissions annually. The two communities with the highest number of admissions are Benton Harbor and Niles. He said that six percent of hospital patients have substance abuse problems and that alcohol and drug overdoses are a significant cause of mortality among young people. 

He told commissioners that Spectrum Lakeland had provided about $2 million in support to Serenity Hills/Sacred Heart over the last few years and is willing to be a partner in a future project although not as a landlord as it is now.  

“These services protect jobs, relationships, children and save lives,” he said.  “Substance abuse treatment is not a money making business. We’re committed to serve the whole community including those with no resources or insurance. To have these services continue, we all have to come together and support them.” 

Berrien General property

Commissioners have been talking for some time about the future of the old Berrien General property which also includes the site of the current Juvenile Center. They have already approved a contract with Wightman & Associates and the DLR firm to do site planning for the new juvenile center and could amend the contract to include a new treatment facility. 

The site being considered for the new juvenile center is county-owned land on Napier Avenue in Benton Township. The county purchased the land several years ago and it is already home to the Berrien County Health Department and Animal Control. 

County Administrator Brian Dissette asked commissioners to think about amending the Wightman/DLR contract to include the Serenity Hills/Sacred Heart project. He emphasized that everything is in the planning stages and that the county board is not being asked to commit any dollars to such a project yet. 

County Commissioner Jim Curran said the goal right now is to concentrate on forming a partnership with Spectrum and Serenity Hills/Sacred Heart and finding a location for such a facility. The Napier Avenue site has been considered due to the synchronicity of having the juvenile center near a treatment facility. 

County Commissioner Ezra Scott said he has concerns. “I understand the need and desire to provide services and I think they are vital as I expect mental health needs to go up,” he said. “But looking at the financial side, we’re building a new juvenile center and I wonder what the county can absorb.” 

The county board’s regular meeting featured action on four resolutions including one honoring Commissioner Mamie Yarbrough’s late husband. Charles “Mickey” Yarbrough died earlier this summer. He was a county juvenile probation officer, Benton Harbor Commissioner and Benton Harbor Mayor in the past. 

The Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office was approved to get more staffing to handle victims’ rights and investigative needs. Seven new positions are being added, four evidence clerks, one victim advocate, one sexual assault/domestic violence case investigator and one violent crimes case investigator. 

The county board accepted a $15,000 state grant for the health department to support the monkeypox virus response. It also extended a contract with the Mosaic Christian Community Development Association for a year to provide pandemic quarantine and isolation services for vulnerable communities.