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Published on December 10, 2020

Avera Announces New Behavioral Health Wing

Supported by major Helmsley Charitable Trust grant to meet expanding needs in child and adolescent mental health

SIOUX FALLS, SD-Avera announces plans to build a new four-story wing at the Avera Behavioral Health Center in Sioux Falls to add much-needed services including more capacity for children and adolescents, residential addiction care for youth, 24/7 psychiatric urgent care and partial hospitalization space.

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust is substantially boosting the project with $13 million in grant funding that includes an $8 million gift and a $5 million matching portion. This generous support launches an $18 million comprehensive fundraising campaign by the Avera Foundation, which includes the $13 million in support from Helmsley and an additional $5 million in funds to be raised.

 “The need for psychiatric care for at-risk youth is great, and the needs are complex. Anger, acting out, anxiety, depression and chemical dependency are being seen in children and adolescents at younger ages, and the numbers are growing,” said Walter Panzirer, a trustee with the Helmsley Charitable Trust. “This expansion will help care for all of the needs that Avera is presented with. Avera Behavioral Health is the only provider of many of these services in a 250-mile radius. This includes most of South Dakota, northwest Iowa, northeast Nebraska and southwest Minnesota. We want to help provide resources so that youth and their families can experience the life-changing intervention offered by expert and dedicated professionals.”

National statistics are alarming. The suicide rate for youth ages 10 to 14 more than doubled from 1999 to 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly half (48.9%) of U.S. high school seniors admitted to using an illicit drug (not counting alcohol or tobacco) in their lifetime.

“Caring for our children’s mental health needs is a priority,” Panzirer said. “That’s why we see this investment as vitally important.”

Avera’s most recent Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) identified top needs as gaps in services for behavioral health and chemical dependency. Because of the pandemic, need for behavioral health services for conditions such as anxiety and depression are expected to increase in children and youth, due to effects of social isolation, disconnectedness, uncertainty, change, fear and other factors, as well as delayed treatment in some cases.

“We are extremely grateful that the Helmsley Charitable Trust recognizes these pressing needs and is responding with this transformational gift,” said David Flicek, President and CEO of Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center. “Helmsley has worked with Avera to identify needs and provide varied solutions in this innovative project. Avera Behavioral Health is one of the largest providers of mental health care in the Midwest. This new wing will change many lives for the better.”

The $28 million project includes space for the following:

Fourth floor: A 14-bed child unit and youth residential addiction care.

The new child unit adds to 40 beds in two specialized units already available for patients under age 18. This will make space in the existing hospital to group teen-agers and “tweeners” closer together while giving younger children the specialized care they need.

“The behavioral health needs of a 7-year-old, an 11-year-old and a 17-year-old are all very different. This project will help us to better meet individual patient needs,” said Thomas Otten, Assistant Vice President, Avera Behavioral Health Center.

The fourth floor will also provide eight beds for youth residential addiction care – a service that is new to Avera and otherwise no longer exists in South Dakota. “Our addiction care center has now been in operation for a year and many people have asked when we are going to offer residential services for those under 18. Addiction care often goes hand in hand with other behavioral health disorders, such as depression, as youth try to mask their pain. This new wing will allow us to provide this needed level of care,” Otten said.

Third floor: Senior behavioral health unit. Avera’s senior adult program will move from the Avera Prince of Peace Retirement Community campus to the new wing. Several years ago, this program was moved to the Prince of Peace campus to free up space at the Avera Behavioral Health Center. Now, this will make room for expanding the transitional care unit at the Avera Prince of Peace campus for hard-to-place patients with specialized medical needs.

Second floor: Adult beds. This will provide space for a possible future adult unit and four additional adult beds right away, as well as a walkway between the new wing and the existing building.

When the new Avera Behavioral Health Center opened in 2006 the hope was to meet area needs through 2025, but it was quickly at capacity. The Helmsley grant ensures the completion of additional space to meet needs well into the future.

Ground floor: 24-hour psychiatric urgent care and partial hospitalization. Currently, hospital emergency rooms are the only option in Sioux Falls for families or law enforcement when someone is having a psychiatric crisis, for example, suicidal thoughts, intent or plan. “Medical emergency rooms are not specially designed for psychiatric care. We will have expert staff ready to help people with psychiatric needs at any time of the day or night. This will be a great option for individuals and families in crisis as well as our first responders,” Otten said.

The ground floor will also provide space for partial hospitalization – for up to 30 adults and 10 youth. Partial hospitalization involves therapy and treatment during the day while the patient goes home at night.

This is the first time Avera will be able to offer partial hospitalization to youth, allowing them to spend part of their day in school and part of their day making progress on their behavioral health condition that may be impeding their success in school and life.

A robust telehealth component will provide for chemical dependency evaluations or mental health assessments for students in schools across the region.

“We benefit people over a large geographic radius across multiple states,” Otten said. “The families we see are often desperate to find answers. Their child’s life and well-being is endangered due to risk of suicide or self-harm. Through this grant, we will have the ability to treat the growing needs of our communities. We are so grateful for this opportunity to look at the full continuum of care and identify where we could enhance and add services in order to better serve our community. This addition will change thousands of lives.”

The Helmsley Charitable Trust has had a decade-long partnership with Avera, allowing for the development of numerous life-changing programs and facilities across Avera’s footprint. This generous philanthropic commitment from Helmsley results in over $67 million in support to Avera.

“We at the Helmsley Charitable Trust are all about improving lives and fulfilling unmet needs,” Panzirer said. “We have partnered with Avera in numerous other projects including cancer care and telemedicine. We are excited for the opportunity to increase access through the addition of robust adolescent-focused behavioral health services in the region.” 

About The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting exceptional efforts in the U.S. and around the world in health and select place-based initiatives. Since beginning active grantmaking in 2008, Helmsley has committed more than $2.6 billion for a wide range of charitable purposes. Helmsley’s Rural Healthcare Program funds innovative projects that use information technologies to connect rural patients to emergency medical care, bring the latest medical therapies to patients in remote areas, and provide state-of-the-art training for rural hospitals and EMS personnel. To date, this program has awarded more than $489 million to organizations and initiatives in the upper Midwest states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa, and Montana.  For more information, visit 

About Avera Health

The Avera Health system has over 19,000 employees and physicians, serving more than 300 locations and 100 communities in a five-state region. Our ministry, our people and our superior value distinguish Avera. We carry on the health care legacy of the Benedictine and Presentation Sisters, delivering care in an environment guided by our values of compassion, hospitality and stewardship. For more information about Avera, visit our website at

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