Lakeland Regional Health, with support from the City of Lakeland, is planning to construct a three-building, 96-bed center to better serve the behavioral health inpatient and outpatient needs of the Polk County community.

The $46 million Center for Behavioral Health & Wellness will be built near Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center and will treat adults and adolescents for mental health problems, substance abuse, memory disorders and more.

Outgoing LRH President Elaine Thompson said she appreciated the support of the city and its commissioners as they work together to provide mental health care.

“Without their dedication to see each resident of our community lead productive, high-quality and healthy lives, we would not be able to focus on this much-needed area of care that will be transformational for patients,” she said.

The hospital currently has 68 beds for inpatient treatment to help those with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other disorders. It also admits patients who have been ordered by the court to seek treatment under the Baker Act. The existing behavioral health areas will be repurposed for other clinical services and program support needs, according to Danielle Drummond, executive vice president of LRH.

“The idea of enhancing and expanding our behavioral health services is a collaborative project among our physicians, nurses and other care team members, along with Lakeland Regional Health’s executive team and board of directors,” Drummond said. “We also gathered valuable patient and family input.”

Lakeland spokesman Kevin Cook said the city is supporting the project because it thinks it will help with the health needs of the community and possibly homelessness. It also supports the initiatives of the Peace River Center, which helps those with mental illness, and Talbot House and Lighthouse, which assist the homeless.

“During the budget discussion, commissioners emphasized the need to establish the necessary programs and infrastructure to assist in this area and were extremely supportive of the plans as they came forward,” Cook said.

Although the city has not provided funding for the project, Mayor Bill Mutz said reducing the amount the hospital pays the city for its lease is Lakeland’s investment.

“Expanding the hospital’s behavioral health capacity is meeting a critical, highly predictable growing healthcare crisis, providing improved quality of life for all our citizens,” Mutz said. “The commission is grateful for the Lakeland Regional Health focus, which other hospital systems often ignore.”

Lakeland Regional Health and Peace River Center leaders worked together to ensure the programs and inpatient care they offer complement each other so they are not duplicating services.

Need for Behavioral Health Services

In the nation, one in six adults experiences mental health issues within a year, according to the 2016 Survey on Drug Use and Health. In Florida, 62% did not receive help, compared to 56% nationally.

Florida is ranked 44th among the 50 states in access to mental health care, according to The State of Mental Health in America in 2018. That means the ratio of population to mental health providers is more than 1,000 to 1.

In Polk County, the number of suicides (87) — often linked to mental health disorders and substance abuse — outpaced the number of homicides (46).

“Our society has traditionally underinvested in behavioral health resources, so it’s fantastic to see Lakeland Regional Health take a proactive approach to address the need in our community,” said Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin. “Citizens of Lakeland are fortunate to have access to such a strong and dynamic healthcare system.”

Groundbreaking is expected to be held in the spring, following all zoning approvals, said Vice President Michael Spake. Construction should be completed in 2021.