Dan Russell, Chief Executive Officer of Genesee Health System, has been in his role for nearly 24 years. He’s especially proud of this latest expansion, and what it provides for the Flint community.
Russell says that even pre-pandemic, the demand for children’s services was increased in Flint, exacerbated even more with the water crisis and pandemic.
“At the time, we had our children’s services in three separate facilities spread across the city, none of which we owned,” said Russell. “We rented all those spaces from landlords and had good relationships so there was never any problem, but as we began to expand, we ran out of room. It was time to start looking for a new building.”
Initially, the plan was to rent another larger building. Through conversations with the Mental Health Facilities Board, a private nonprofit, Genesee Health Systems (GHS) started looking at constructing a new building.
With support from private and public funding, grants, Uptown Reinvestment Group, foundational support from Ruth Mott Foundation, the Community Foundation, and New Market Tax Credits, the brand-new 60,000-square-foot facility celebrated its ribbon-cutting ceremony in Nov. 2022.
The lobby area inside the new Genesee Health Systems’ Center for Children Integrated Services facility.
The building was on a budget and took just a few months longer than the initial projected date of finish, due to supply chain issues, says Russell. One of the guidelines for the $23 million expansion, which broke ground in June 2021, was to remain budget-neutral. The goal was to keep the cost nearly the same amount of money that GHS paid in rent to lease the three separate facilities before.
“We combined all of our kids’ programs into one building, and in addition, we’re also a federally-qualified health center which provides primary care,” said Russell. “We’re going to have a primary care office in the building so it’s a literal one-stop shop.”
The new Center houses the Children’s Autism Center, the Neurodevelopmental Center of Excellence, and the Child & Family Services departments.
Dan Russell, Chief Executive Officer of Genesee Health System.
“It is a beautiful, state-of-the-art building,” he explained. “The building is very open.” Phone booths, pods, and comfortable seating areas allow staff to catch up on emails, write notes for patients, and conduct business privately.
“The furniture is very children-friendly. There are a lot of pieces that look like big puzzles that come apart, that children can play with,” said Russell. “It’s a very welcoming environment which we didn’t really have before. Mental health service is kind of famous for underfunding facilities. Historically, we’ve made the program fit into whatever space was available. This was one time we were able to actually design the space that the programs needed.”
Looking ahead, Russell anticipates even more exciting changes and community offerings from the new space and the collaborations it welcomes. “I think we will have a great synergism from having all of the really talented, smart staff in one place working together,” he says.
It’s also important to GHS that this brand-new facility act as a symbol of the commitment to personal care the Center has for families of Flint.
“We walk into our hospitals like Hurley, McLaren, Genesys, and they all have beautiful lobbies. We’ve always said the behavioral health patients deserve the exact same respect that I get when I go into the hospital. We thought enough to put effort and time into this, and we designed an area that’s for them, and that shows that respect and that they’re worth that effort. I hope they feel that.”
Over the years, efforts have increased to make mental health services accessible and available to youth patients. Looking ahead, the GHS Center for Children Integrated Services’ also aims to expand its connection with local schools.
A playground sits outside of the new building. One of their newest programs includes a mobile behavioral health response program, specifically for schools, which launched with Genesee Intermediate Schools. “We’re expanding and eventually hope to have that available to every school in the county,” said Russell. “If they have a situation that escalates, we will have a team of behavioral health staff there in a very short time. That’s one of the programs that’s fairly new, and a soft pilot right now.”
Russell is excited to see what additional collaborations, programs, resources, and partnerships come out of this new space. “We’re very appreciative of all the support we’ve had on this,” he says.”I’ve been in this field for a long time, and this is a really unique collaboration. I haven’t seen communities come together to help a mental health facility like this; it’s really been inspiring.”
To learn more about Genesee Health System’s Center for Children’s Integrated Services, visit: ghschildrenscenter.org