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UnityPoint Health lays out plans for youth behavioral health center at Heddington Oaks

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Tim Shelley
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WCBU
The former Heddington Oaks nursing home in West Peoria on Friday, March 11, 2022.

UnityPoint Health is moving forward with its plans for the former Heddington Oaks nursing home in West Peoria after the Peoria County Board cleared the way for its sale Thursday night.

The healthcare organization plans to convert the 16-acre property at 2223 W. Heading Ave. into the Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Center.

"We are the currently the only providers anywhere in central Illinois that provides inpatient mental health services for kids. And because of that, we often reach our capacity," said Mike Unes, vice president of the UnityPoint Health - Central Illinois Foundation.

An average of 60 kids and adolescents are admitted to the inpatient behavioral health unit at UnityPoint Health - Methodist every month. Many more are turned away and referred to out-of-town facilities - some as far away as Chicago.

"I know many of those parents that have had to sadly, leave their loved ones behind hours away just because we were at capacity here. We are better than that in central Illinois. Here in central Illinois, no family should ever have to endure that kind of stress," said Unes.

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Tim Shelley
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WCBU
UnityPoint Health - Central Illinois regional president and CEO Dr. Keith Knepp speaks at a press conference on the healthcare organization's plans for the former Heddington Oaks nursing home, following the Peoria County Board's approval of its sale on Thursday, March 10, 2022.

Dr. Keith Knepp, regional president and CEO of UPH - Central Illinois, said the additional space at Heddington Oaks will double the existing inpatient behavioral health capacity for youth in the Peoria area.

In the last five years, 2,600 children and adolescents were turned away from Methodist and sent out of town for services.

"As we expand our inpatient and our outpatient services, we'll be able to treat more youth and families with the care needed and at the time that it's needed, and closer to home. So we're very excited about that," said Mary Sparks Thompson, the new president of UnityPlace, UnityPoint's local behavioral health service provider.

The UPH - Central Illinois Foundation is launching the Young Minds Project to raise the money for the new youth behavioral health center. Knepp said Thursday that the existing Heddington Oaks facility will need a multimillion dollar investment before it can serve its new purpose.

An anonymous family is offering a $1 million matching gift for donations towards opening the center.

In addition to filling a need in the community, Knepp said the new behavioral health center will increase access to care, and reduce racial disparities.

"We're here today because this facility can can be a hub for that, and help us to reduce racial injustice and healthcare inequities in this community and make behavioral health and substance use disorders (treatment) accessible and available to all," Knepp said.

In an interview with WCBU following Friday's announcement, Knepp said there's no firm timeline for the center's opening, with fundraising and regulatory approvals still to come.

In addition to inpatient services, Knepp said there are also plans for intensive outpatient therapy and partial hospitalization programs, as well as educational support, music therapy, and art therapy. Specialized care for children with autism will also be a priority, he said.

UnityPoint Health will pay Peoria County between $8 to $10 million to acquire Heddington Oaks. The final number depends on how much state and federal funding UnityPoint secures for the project.

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