By Wayne Schutsky GSN Managing Editor
Behavioral-health service provider Springstone will build a mental-health and addiction treatment center in Gilbert nearly five years after the company terminated similar plans due to public outcry.
Springstone purchased more than six acres at Rome and Melrose streets near Mercy Gilbert Medical Center in April with plans to build a 60,000-square-foot facility. The company expects to begin construction this summer and complete the project in 2019.
The Gilbert center will offer services similar to its sister facility in Avondale, including inpatient and outpatient services, counseling for substance abuse and treatment for anxiety and depression.
It will provide services only to patients who voluntarily admit themselves and will not handle court-ordered evaluations, according to Cheri Downer, vice president of marketing and communications for Springstone.
Springstone initially planned to build a mental-health facility, Saguaro Springs, at Greenfield and Baseline roads in early 2013. It eventually agreed to abandon plans at that site due to vocal opposition from neighbors, who were worried because it was near Pioneer Elementary School.
Gilbert Councilman Eddie Cook, who has served on the Town Council since 2011, said neighbors were concerned about the possibility that patients who self-checked into the facility could leave without taking prescribed medication and pose a risk to nearby communities.
The company conducted community outreach activities and stressed the need for greater access to mental-health care in Gilbert, to no avail.
Springstone settled on a site near Val Vista Drive and Williams Field Road. However, it ran into more opposition there from neighbors worried about the proximity to residential properties, shopping centers and a school-bus stop, according to an East Valley Tribune story from October 2013.
“Our motto is it’s the right idea, but the wrong location,” parent Andrea Palmer said in the 2013 story.
Cook said Springstone representatives spoke with community members several times. Ultimately, the company pulled out of Gilbert and built its first Arizona center in Avondale.
“I think what is fascinating is at both locations that (Springstone) tried to set up shop, they were in the right because it was zoned (for those uses),” Cook said. “They could have just built it.”
Despite the issues it faced in 2013, Springstone renewed its efforts to move into Gilbert because of the need for access to mental- health services in the town.
“(Springstone was motivated by) the data showing that there is such an unmet need in that community for mental-health support,” Downer said.
Arizona ranks 49th among 50 states and Washington, D.C., in Mental Health America’s overall rankings, which indicates the state has a high incidence of mental illness and low access to care.
Gilbert, specifically, is in need of greater access to mental-health services for its residents, a fact that the town acknowledged after publication of its human-services needs assessment in June 2014.
The town commissioned The Williams Institute for Ethics and Management to conduct the study in order to find out more about what human services the town excelled at providing and where it could improve.
That assessment pegged mental-health and substance abuse treatment services as the second most critical need in Gilbert, behind services for families and individuals in crisis.
Since then, the town invested over $1 million to renovate the site of Gilbert’s first library. Heritage Center, previously known as Page Park Center, will provide access to basic care, referrals and information for several at-risk communities in Gilbert.
That would include those who need mental-health and/or substance abuse treatment.
The town also will cover the estimated $22,710 in annual operating costs for the center, which will be run by the nonprofit Azcend, formerly known as Chandler Christian Community Center.
Gilbert created a behavioral-health task force at about the time Springstone first considered coming to town, in order to address issues like providing police with proper training to deal with residents with behavioral health issues, former Mayor John Lewis said.
“If a police officer has knowledge of what someone is going through, often they could talk them down versus using force, and the outcome would be much more positive,” Lewis said.
He said the task force included many community organizations, including individuals opposed to the original Springstone projects
“(They) helped put in specific language about where facilities could be located,” Lewis said. “It ended up being a very positive outcome.”
The new Springstone location — near Mercy Gilbert Medical Center — has not drawn the same public ire as its previous projects.
“The reason they originally left Gilbert wasn’t because they didn’t have an interest,” Colliers International Executive Vice President Philip Wurth said., adding:
“They were trying to find a location that was a good fit for the (town) and where their patient base is coming from.”
Worth negotiated the land sale to Springstone.
He added, “What transpired in those years is the health-care corridor around the hospital had matured, so they felt comfortable going in there. It has been really well received by the physicians and medical providers.”
While Cook did acknowledge receiving two complaints from an individual and business near the new site, he said the town has not received the community-wide negative responses that derailed the development five years ago.
“This site is a natural fit,” Cook said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”