Jefferson County is adding a youth crisis stabilization facility to its roster of human services.
It will be operational this summer on Watertown’s southwest side, if all goes according to plan.
Addition of the youth facility was approved by the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors Tuesday by a vote of 29-0, with Supervisor Meg Turville-Heitz absent.
Wisconsin youth crisis stabilization facilities provide support and services in a residential setting of no more than eight beds at early stages of a mental health crisis. The goal is to intervene before more intensive, costly and restrictive measures are required, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website. Young people ages 17 and under may stay for up to 30 days — though most stays are only a few days in length — to recover from their distress.
The eight-bed facility will be located on property recently purchased by the Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation. The 90 acres now owned by the foundation are the former home of Bethesda Lutheran Communities and includes Bethesda’s former corporate headquarters.
The 55,000 square-foot office building that housed the corporate offices is slated to be home to services provided by the YMCA, Jefferson County Head Start and others.
“This project is an outstanding example of how partners can align the limited resources and talents of their individual organizations to collaboratively support services that are critical to the wellbeing of our youth,” GWCHF President and CEO Tina Crave said after the board approved the resolution.
The health foundation already owns The Alyea House that will house the youth crisis stabilization program, according to Crave. The Alyea House, in a wooded area off of Milford Street, was built in 2017 and was part of Bethesda’s Camp Matz. It has been sitting vacant for several years.
The State Department of Health Services awarded two grants to allow creation of the youth facility, according to the resolution.
One, a Consolidated Appropriations Act Grant in the amount of $800,000, will be applied to startup and staffing costs, the resolution read, in part. The other, a Program Revenue Grant in the amount of $578,737, is intended to cover architectural, construction and remodeling costs, as well as payment for reserving beds to ensure they are available for future admissions. County officials expect an additional state grant of $498,000 per year for up to three years to fund operations.
County officials expect to set rates for nearby counties to use the facility, according to a resolution passed Tuesday.
“Jefferson County expects this facility will help save money by providing a better, cost-effective solution for its children in crisis, while also saving costs for partners in law enforcement,” the resolution reads in part.
In addition to the grants, long-term sustainability will be built into the daily rates that other counties pay to reserve beds at the facility, said Jefferson County Human Services Director Brent Ruehlow.
“And we’ve had a number of counties reach out to us and are very excited to start to contract for a year-round bed reservation fee,” Ruehlow said. “Walworth, Dodge, Rock and Waukesha counties have expressed interest in using the facility.”
There are few such facilities in the state. These include two in Milwaukee County and one in Wausau.
Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Communities Services will be responsible for running the facility in Watertown. Jefferson County will serve as the fiscal agent for the operation and will hold the license. It will also control admissions, according to Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier.
Officials have said the facility will be open 24 hours every day to receive voluntary admissions, Ruehlow said.
It would not be locked and the staffing ratio would be one staff member for every three youth, with two staff on duty at all times, Ruehlow said.
The facility would provide greater opportunity for connections for family and other support networks, and would save staff and law enforcement time in terms of travel, officials have said.