ANCHORAGE - North Star Behavioral Health System plans to build a 60-bed residential treatment facility in Wasilla for emotionally disturbed children.
The project comes as the Legislature is calling for more in-state treatment of severely emotionally disturbed Alaska children. As many as 425 children are sent Outside for treatment every year.
"It's a big project, and we're excited," North Star chief executive Kathy Cronen told the Alaska Journal of Commerce.
The health care provider operates two facilities in Anchorage and another in Palmer. It is working to acquire land for the planned project in the Meadow Lakes area north of Wasilla, Cronen said.
North Star also plans to add 18 beds at its Palmer facility this year, Cronen said.
In Anchorage, one of North Star's facilities will gain another 18 beds, she said. Although a general contractor has not been chosen, Cronen said construction could begin in the next 60 to 90 days, with completion set for summer.
The planned Wasilla facility is an important component for treatment, Cronen said.
"It's our belief that what is needed is not acute care but residential beds," she said.
The Wasilla project contains components for children's psychiatric services, which is the focus of a bill now before the Legislature.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 21 outlines a lack of in-state psychiatric treatment services for children and aims to support development of Alaska residential treatment facilities. It acknowledges a problem and looks at solutions, Cronen said.
Sponsored by the Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee, the bill was referred to the Senate Rules Committee on Feb. 6.
The bill's authors hope that increased numbers of in-state beds would reduce the amount the state pays for treatment outside Alaska, said Jerry Burnett, legislative assistant to Sen. Lyda Green, a Matanuska-Susitna Borough Republican who serves as chairwoman of the committee working on the bill.
Cronen did not release a cost estimate for North Star's Wasilla facility. She said construction could be finished in less than two years.
North Star chose to study sites in the Matanuska-Susitna area because it would be easier to find a lot size suitable for residential treatment cottages there than in Anchorage, she said.
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