KGH on track to become recovery center

The former Kennewick General Hospital will become a recovery center serving clients with drug addiction and mental health issues under a plan approved in late October by the Kennewick Public Hospital District Board.

The district’s board of commissioners accepted a two-part feasibility study that lays the foundation to convert the hospital on Auburn Street into what it calls the Two Rivers Rehabilitation Center during its Oct. 29 meeting.

Benton and Franklin counties helped fund the $50,000 study.

The Tri-Cities is the only community of size in Washington that lacks a recovery and detox center.

The Benton Franklin Recovery Coalition led by Michele Gerber has spent the last two years promoting the need to help people with substance abuse disorders and mental health issues in their own hometown.

Accepting the study is the first step to converting the old KGH into a 76-bed recovery center and detoxification facility.

The plan gives the hospital district a fresh mission following its 2017 bankruptcy. It lost most of its physical assets, including the hospital on Auburn Street, now known as Trios Women’s and Children’s Hospital, after being overwhelmed by more than $200 million in debt.

The private company now called LifePoint acquired Trios and, separately, Lourdes Health in Pasco.

The district remained in existence, with a mission to fill the local gap in health care services. A recovery center fits the bill, its commissioners said.

“We can still make a real difference,” said Dr. Leonard Dreisbach, a member of the board.

The stars behind the Two Rivers plan began to line up when LifePoint applied for a certificate of need to consolidate its Kennewick beds at the Trios Southridge Hospital, signaling its intent to move the birthing center out of downtown, with a decision due in early 2021.

The move will free a 100,000-square-foot hospital.

The hospital will be repurposed with 60 in-patient beds and an 18-bed detox center with both secured and unsecured beds for law enforcement purposes.

LifePoint has not commented on its plans, but Lee Kerr, the district’s superintendent, said it has a tentative purchase and sale agreement to buy back the hospital on terms he described as “favorable.”

The district expects to fund the down payment with proceeds from the Tri-Cities Cancer Center, which bought out the ownership interests of Trios and Lourdes when they were acquired by a for-profit company, now known as LifePoint, for $325,000 apiece.

The Benton Franklin Recovery Center’s Gerber, who lost her son as a young adult after he became addicted to painkillers following an accident, has promoted the idea to civic and government agencies over the past two years.

The feedback has been uniformly positive, she said. Two Rivers has the coalition’s “complete support,” she said.

The public health district would own the facility but would not operate it. Instead, it would lease space to operators who would treat patients funded by a mix of Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance and self-pay.

Accepting the feasibility study sets the stage to raise the money it needs to convert the hospital.

The health district receives about $1.5 million annually in property tax revenue.

At the Oct. 29 meeting, the board agreed to raise its property tax rate by 1%, the amount allowed under state law. The added funds will support its recovery center vision.

It also agreed to pursue grants and to request funds in the state’s capital projects budget.

The hospital would have to be licensed by the state health department.

An inspector toured the facility in July and gave feedback on the upgrades it needs. Kerr said the visit was encouraging, which district took as a sign the state will support the project.

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