The dream of a Three Rivers Behavioral Health Recovery Center is close to becoming a reality as Benton County moves to secure two sites to serve Tri-Citians facing mental health and substance abuse crises.
The county expects to complete a $1.6 million deal to buy the now closed Kennewick General Hospital from Trios Health on Oct. 25.
It is also negotiating a separate deal for quarters, reportedly in downtown Kennewick, to house aspects of treatment that can’t be carried out at the old hospital under terms of the deal.
The county has already taken on some responsibility for the six-acre hospital campus, which is at 10th Avenue and Auburn Street. Crews laid out temporary drip lines to try to reverse the effects of a well failure, which left the mature landscape parched after going without water during the hottest summer months.
Benton County said an irrigation well at the site failed about the same time Trios relocated its birthing center from the former Kennewick General earlier this year. The property is not served by the Kennewick Irrigation District.
Shyanne Palmus, spokeswoman for the county, said county crews put out drip lines to try to save the trees and shrubs. But it expects the grass will die.
“We’ll have to address the landscaping and water system once we take ownership of the building,” she said.
Neighboring properties include a city park and school properties and are unaffected by the lack of water reaching sprinklers.
In addition to the parched greenery, litter is visible on the grounds and there is evidence of light dumping near the Auburn Street entrance, where cardboard boxes and a pallet were left in the bushes.
Trios officials cited the well failure for the situation and said it would begin irrigating with city water.
Trios, which is owned by the for profit LifePoint Health, acquired the old hospital and the other assets of the former Kennewick Public Hospital District from RCCH Healthcare Partners. RCCH in turn acquired the assets after the taxing district filed for bankruptcy in 2018 following a financial crisis triggered by the costs associated with building the Southridge Hospital, now Trios Southridge Hospital.
The old hospital has a storied history.
It opened in 1952 after Kennewick voters approved a $350,000 general obligation bond. That, coupled with a lively community fundraising campaign and a $150,000 gift from the Atomic Energy Commission paid for the community-owned facility.
The landscape reflects the age of the facility.
Trios consolidated operations at Southridge, leaving the old hospital empty when it moved the birthing operation to a new $20-plus million facility at its Southridge hospital.
Enter the Benton Franklin Recovery Coalition, an advocacy group led by Michele Gerber to push for a recovery center. The Tri-Cities is one of the few communities without such a facility.
Benton County reached an agreement to buy the site, but with a caveat. The purchase-sale agreement prohibits it from using the old hospital for in-patient mental health services. The county is negotiating to lease a facility to house that aspect of the recovery program.
Matt Rasmussen, deputy administrator for Benton County, said a lease for the undisclosed location could be signed by October as well.
Benton County has secured more than $9 million in state and federal funding and has committed up to $5 million of the funds it received through the American Rescue Plan Act.
Benton and Franklin counties both approved a sales and use tax to support the new recovery center. The 0.01% tax took effect in Franklin County on April 1 and in Benton County on July 1.
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