Carver County is renovating and expanding a former hospice to house its new Mental Health and Wellness facility for people who need immediate help but not necessarily long-term care, and whose only alternative until now has been going to a hospital emergency room.

The facility, near Lake Bavaria in Chaska, is in a building that operated for eight years as the Marie Steiner Kelting Hospice Home. The hospice, which was run by Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia, closed in 2017 because of dwindling revenue. Carver County bought the property for $2.5 million.

The county will expand the building from a five-bed to a 12-bed facility, using a $1.25 million bond appropriation from the Legislature. It plans to complete construction late this year or early in 2020.

People who are 18 and older will be able to get an assessment of their condition and, if necessary, stay there for up to 10 days. It "fills a gap" in Carver County's continuum of mental-health programs, said Rod Franks, director of the county's Health and Human Services Division.

Carver already offers a mobile crisis team that responds to calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Up to now, people needing longer-term treatment must find a hospital and possibly travel as far as Mankato or Fargo to find a place, due to the scarcity of inpatient psychiatrist beds.

Treatment at the new facility will be voluntary, Franks said. "The doors aren't locked from the inside; we don't keep people in there against their will," he said.

People who stay there can receive counseling, supervision, medication monitoring, family education, connection to resources and other support services until they're stable and can return home.

Similar short-term care facilities elsewhere have been successful at replacing institutionalized care, said Randy Maluchnik, Carver County Board chairman. The alternative might be "at least two weeks in a psych ward, which creates whole other problems," he said, generating trauma and damaging the person's self-esteem and relationship with family members.

"We knew there was a need for this kind of facility," Franks said. "It's really designed to meet the needs of individuals through crisis or emergencies and get them the help they need."

Katy Read • 612-673-4583