Ground broken for Sanford Bemidji Behavioral Health Crisis Center

Work has begun for Bemidji’s behavioral health crisis center.

According to a release from Sanford Health, the inpatient psychiatric facility is a partnership with Beltrami County and will be the first of its kind to offer adult psych beds within 90 miles of Bemidji.

The Behavioral Health Crisis Center will also be the first to feature an Emergency Psychiatric Assessment Treatment and Healing, or EmPATH, unit for both adults and adolescents in Northwest Minnesota.

The 12,000-square-foot facility will be on Hannah Avenue between the Sanford Health Primewest Residential Support Center and the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center and will have eight beds for adult psych care.

The EmPATH unit will be able to provide outpatient crisis care.

The EmPATH unit, according to officials, should relieve some of the pressure on Sanford’s Emergency Department, as that is where mental health or substance abuse patients in crisis must stay until a psychiatric bed, often hundreds of miles away, can be found.

“For someone who is experiencing a mental or substance use crisis, an ER can be overstimulating and even overwhelming,” explained Ashlea McMartin, MS, LPCC, clinical manager of community-based mental health services at Sanford Health Bemidji, including the Mobile Crisis Unit and the future Crisis Center.

“The EmPATH unit and crisis center will provide an environment that is optimal to deescalate a patient’s crisis and help get them the tailored care they need right away.”

The Sanford Bemidji Mobile Crisis unit saw a 23% increase in encounters during 2019-2020 and an additional 44% increase from 2020-2021.

The Bemidji ER sees additional patients in crisis who report directly to the ER for care.

In 2020, the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center saw a total of 406 patients in crisis who required inpatient psychiatric care.

“We are immensely grateful for our partnership with Beltrami County, the county commissioners, the Department of Health and Sanford Health Foundation donors for this project, including the George W. Neilson Foundation,” shared Susan Jarvis, president and CEO of Sanford Health Bemidji.

“We look forward to offering patients the care they need close to home and in the best care setting possible.”

“Having these new crisis resources readily available within our area will not only take pressure off of our local ER and hospital, but this collaboration with Sanford will close the gap in much needed services, help keep families together and positively impact those in and around our county for generations to come,” expressed Tom Barry, Beltrami County Administrator.

The facility should be constructed over the course of the next year by Kraus-Anderson.

Over half of the $6.2 million project was made possible through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Health, with another $1.45 million from American Rescue Plan funding obtained by Beltrami County.

The remainder of the project will be funded through philanthropic dollars via the Sanford Health Foundation of Northern Minnesota.

Donor opportunities are still available for those who would like to contribute toward the project before its opening in late fall 2022.


Larissa Donovan is the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and has been, almost without interruption, since Election Day 2016. She covers all the beats in north-central Minnesota, such as local government, crime, education, environment and social issues. She studied communications at Bemidji State University.


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