By Mark Nicklawske

A new facility planned for children battling severe depression, anxiety and other serious mental health issues was rejected this spring in one community but has found a warm welcome in another metro Twin Cities location.

The Hills Youth and Family Services officially launched construction plans for a 60-bed child psychiatric center called Cambia Hills with a celebration near the future building site in East Bethel. Officials plan to finalize project details and break ground this year with a grand opening scheduled for 2019.

“This is a historic day for Minnesota children and their families,” said The Hills CEO Jeff Bradt. “Our search for a home for our children’s treatment center has – at last – reached a happy ending.”

In April, the Forest Lake City Council rejected a Hills proposal to rezone property for a children’s treatment center construction project. The controversial decision was met with criticism from Forest Lake residents, state mental health care advocates and an editorial in the Minneapolis StarTribune.  But Bradt said a list of more than 100 elected officials, public servants, non-profit and corporate organizations, moms, dads and concerned citizens from all over the state helped the organization find a new location.

“All of them took a risk and all of them helped us get to where we are today,” he said. “So today we are saying thank you.”

U.S. Congressman Tom Emmer (R-Sixth District), one of the many project supporters, spoke at the East Bethel event.

Photo credit: Jennifer Moore

“There are not enough places in the United States to treat those who are experiencing mental issues,” he said. “Today we are one step closer to changing all of that.”

Emmer said the United States is going through a mental health crisis. He said 60 million people have mental health issues, 11 million have serious mental health issues and 4 million of those people do not receive proper care. Emmer said many people suffering from mental health problems wind up in prison or on the streets.

“The prisons today seem to have replaced mental health hospitals in caring for our mentally ill. I think this is a grave mistake for many reasons.” he said.

Emmer said mental health care hospitals and treatment centers can better care for patients at a more reasonable cost.

“This center will save countless dollars for the community and our state. More importantly it’s going to save lives,” he said. “We’re here because this community knows there’s simply not enough places for children with mental illness to go.”

The new $26 million facility will sit on a wooded 38-acre campus across the street from Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in East Bethel. The facility will employ 150 health care professionals and treat children ages 7 to 17 with issues like autism, mood disorders, depression and other psychiatric problems not serious enough for hospitalization.

Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper called the new facility “essential” to providing youth convenient, professional and appropriate levels of care. She said Cambia Hills will be one of three new child health care facilities coming to the state soon.

“We owe the The Hills Youth and Family Services a debt of gratitude for their hard work and persistence in the face of adversity to make this happen for Minnesota communities, our families and, of course, our children,” she said.

East Bethel Mayor Steve Voss said Cambia Hills will bring jobs and an economic impact to East Bethel but, more importantly, it will help youth with mental health issues.

“The mental health crisis in Minnesota is serious and this particularly helps our youth, the most vulnerable in our society,” he said. “The lack of adequate health treatment facilities is a serious issue and something East Bethel is very proud of for being part of the solution.”

Voss said St. Francis High School student Cassidy Disrud helped convince East Bethel officials to support the Cambia Hills project. Earlier this year, Disrud shared her experiences fighting mental health issues at a city council meeting. A lack of proper facilities complicated her treatment, she said.

Disrud attended the June 25 event and said afterward that she was pleased to see construction plans moving forward. She said advocating for better mental health treatment has become a life mission..

“Families are afraid to talk about it but people need to know it’s an actual disease and it’s deadly,” she said. “I hope that everyone can get the best help that’s available, the help that they need.

Disrud said she plans to go to college, earn a doctorate in psychology and return to the Cambia Hills campus in East Bethel.

“I would love to work here,” she said.