Chaska's former Marie Steiner Kelting Hospice Home will soon be repurposed to house some of the area's most vulnerable adults, which advocates say is urgently needed.

By 2019, individuals suffering from a temporary mental health crisis will be able to get treatment near Lake Bavaria rather than seek refuge from a hospital emergency room. The building will have 12 beds, providing a place for patients to spend up to 10 days to adjust to their medication, get therapy and stabilize.

"This is a long time coming," Rod Franks, Carver County's director of health and human services, said at the Nov. 21 County Board meeting. Franks noted that one in five people struggles with a mental health issue.

"Those people are living around us," Franks said. "They're down the street, they're next door, they're across the backyard. Getting them the help and services they need actually increases the fabric of safety throughout our community."

The former hospice site owned by Ridgeview Medical Center permanently closed in June after years of declining revenue. Carver County bought the property for $2.5 million earlier this month. A $1.25 million bond appropriation from the Legislature will pay for a new wing. Once completed, the county will open the facility, which has a projected value of $3.75 million.

Proponents say the residential unit can fill a service gap between the county's Crisis Response Team and hospital-level care, which is often beyond what's required. Mobile responders are alerted through a hot line when residents are suffering a crisis. They help provide mental health assessments and develop a safety plan.

For those who don't seek inpatient psychiatric care at an area hospital, the temporary facility would be a viable option close to home, Franks said. He believes it might even encourage distressed residents to seek help sooner.

Right now, those in need must travel to clinics in Mankato or Coon Rapids. When those are booked, patients can wind up as far away as Fargo.

"So far this year, we've sent 189 ambulance rides more than 100 miles to find an inpatient hospital psychiatric bed," said Bob Stevens, former CEO of Ridgeview Medical Center. Ridgeview's two emergency rooms in Chaska and Waconia are on track to treat 4,000 people for mental health diagnoses this year alone, he said. Of the 3,600 patients recorded in 2016, nearly three-quarters lived in Carver County.

Several Victoria and Chaska City Council members have remained resistant to the project, expressing concerns about the security of an unlocked facility near an elementary school. Some neighboring residents have also expressed concerns about the possibility of the crisis center housing violent adults.

Franks assured community members that would not be the case. This facility would specialize in treating patients suffering from issues like depression, who need temporary help and perhaps medical intervention.

The center would be open to all Minnesota residents 18 years and older who have no criminal history. And each admission must be screened to ensure that they don't present a threat to themselves or others.

Derrick Smigiel, of Victoria, acknowledged the benefits of such a rehabilitation process, but said he fears a drop in property values in homes close to a mental health residence.

"There's a time and a place for these facilities," Smigiel said, "and it's not in the middle of a park next to a school."

Smigiel asked how the commissioners would vote if the facility was seeking a permit in their own neighborhoods.

Commissioner Tom Workman said that taxpayers would foot the bill for mental health problems, regardless.

"We're responsible for the mental health problems of our residents and when they do have those — by the thousands — we're paying for it," Workman said. "This is a problem whether this facility is going to exist or not."

Ahead of the 5-0 approving the purchase proposal, Commissioner Randy Maluchnik got emotional talking about his mother's struggles with addiction and noted that he has bipolar disorder.

"I'm a grandfather and a great-grandfather. Yes, I would put this facility next to my home," he said. "I've needed this facility a couple times."

Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648