More than 300 neighbors, dignitaries and public health advocates turned out Tuesday to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new children’s mental health center in north Minneapolis, welcoming a facility that aims to address chronic shortages in psychiatric care for Minnesota children and adolescents.
The event capped a three-year fundraising campaign that will allow the Washburn Center for Children to vacate a cramped site in south Minneapolis and build a bright, landscaped facility in keeping with its mission.
“Children with mental illnesses deserve to receive treatment in a beautiful building. It tells them that they are important,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter in Minnesota. “I mean we have a lot of kids with mental illness whose needs are not met.”
The $24.5 million building, at the corner of Glenwood and Dupont Avenues N., will double Washburn’s space and reflects an ongoing shortage of mental health facilities in the state.
The center’s caseload has doubled in recent years, to more than 2,700 children in 2012, in a trend that reflects statewide and national demand. The Minnesota Department of Human Services estimates that 109,000 children and adolescents need treatment for serious emotional disturbances each year, and the American Psychiatric Association says that the number of pediatric psychiatrists nationally is 50 percent short of meeting demand.
The groundbreaking also marked a milestone for Washburn, a nonprofit with Minnesota roots dating back 130 years.
“We have been working hard at trying to increase access and help more kids,” said Steve Lepinski, the center’s executive director. He estimated that one out of every five Minnesota children will experience a mental health problem at some point, and that only 20 percent of them get appropriate care.
The center treats conditions including anxiety, depression, behavioral problems and attention deficit disorder.
Several speakers noted that, while it’s easy to tell when a child gets a cold, detecting mental illness can be extremely difficult.
“When a child gets sick, we all step in to help. We need to stop ignoring mental health,” said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.
“We are going to start taking care of children in real time,” said Ward 5 Council Member Don Samuels.
Donors to the capital campaign included the family foundation of the late businessman Peter J. King; the General Mills Foundation; the Pohlad Family Foundation; the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, and Whitebox Advisors CEO Andy Redleaf and his wife, Lynne, an attorney and Washburn Center board member. The center also got a $5 million allocation from a bonding bill passed by the Legislature.
Construction is set to begin in September with completion scheduled for November 2014.