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Published on June 23, 2020

Avera Behavioral Health Center Fully Reopens After Tornado Repairs

All services at the Avera Behavioral Health Center in Sioux Falls are now reopened, now that significant repairs have been completed after damage caused by a Sept. 10, 2019, tornado.

“Thanks to a lot of great collaboration, we were able to keep all of our services open throughout this time. We are especially glad to now have all our services back at the Avera Behavioral Health Center. We are now fully open and have capacity to care for patients across the entire mental health continuum,” said Thomas Otten, Assistant Vice President for Avera Behavioral Health Services.

The 108-bed behavioral health center has five specialized units – three for adults that are based on the needs of the patient, one unit for children and one for adolescents.

The type of damage indicates that the building took a direct hit from the EF-2 tornado – one of three confirmed tornadoes that touched down in Sioux Falls the same night, Otten said.

“Our Adult A and adolescent units had such significant damage they needed to be torn down to the steel structure – and even some steel was significantly bent and had to be replaced,” Otten said.

Other units had broken glass and wind and water damage to interior finishes including sheetrock, ceiling tiles, wiring and flooring.

Immediately after the tornado, Avera Behavioral Health placed patients at other Avera locations. This included the pediatric unit at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center. Through a unique public-private collaboration, the state of South Dakota offered space for three units at the Human Services Center in Yankton.

Adult B was the first unit to reopen within a few weeks. Adult C and children’s units were repaired and reopened by November. The adolescent unit reopened for patients in April and Adult A was recently reopened in early June.

The 24-hour assessment program never stopped operations. Within a few days after the tornado the outpatient clinics at the center were able to reopen and continued to operate throughout the construction.

“Many of our inpatient admissions involve people who are suicidal – or have significant concerns. We wanted to do everything we could to keep services in place, knowing that lives could be at stake,” Otten said. “We’re grateful for the collaboration of the Human Services Center in Yankton that helped us continue to be able to care for patients.”

There are still a few repairs to be done, including repairs to fencing and outdoor play equipment, resodding due to glass shards imbedded in the lawn, and window replacements in which the outer pane of glass was cracked or broken while the inner pane was left intact.

The tornado hit around 11:25 p.m. the night of Sept. 10. “The blessing of that was that 11 to 11:30 was the time of a shift change so we had more staff in the building. We had about 15 minutes of warning,” Otten said. Security staff quickly went around the building instructing staff to get patients to interior hallways.

“It was unusual to have the level of destruction we had – with walls being taken down, ceiling panels taken out and wires hanging from the ceiling – and to have less than 10 minor injuries. If patients had not been in the interior hallways, and had been in their rooms or day areas when the tornado hit, there definitely would have been serious injuries if not fatalities. This was a testament to our staff’s dedication to keep our patients safe, and a story of God’s care for our staff and patients that night,” Otten said.

Avera’s new Addiction Care Center at the nearby Avera on Louise Health Campus in Sioux Falls was untouched by tornado damage and has remained fully operational, including during the weeks of the COVID-19 crisis. To learn more about services, go to To reach Avera’s 24-hour behavioral health assessment center, call 1-800-691-4336.

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