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Southwest Mental Health Center has expansion in mind with Worthington building site

Jamie Reitmeier of Reitmeier Masonry, Worthington, places the stone exterior on the new Southwest Minnesota Health Center Friday afternoon in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- The new office building for the Southwestern Mental Health Center is taking shape in downtown Worthington, and while it may look quite large from the outside, SWMHC executive director Scott Johnson is already wondering if there will be enough space.

The 13,000-square-foot building will consist of 35 offices, three conference rooms and a play therapy room; and will house all of SWMHC's Worthington outpatient operations, as well as some programs that serve the five-county region, he said. A long list of mental health services will be provided at the facility, from psychiatry and medication management to psychological testing and individual, family and group therapy.

While Johnson said the facility's size will accommodate SWMHC programming for the "immediate future," there is room on the site -- a full city block shared with the SWMHC's Unity House -- for further expansion if needed.

"It's hard to imagine (an addition), but that is the way things are going," Johnson said. "There are a lot of things being proposed federally and at the state level that may help us expand even further. There's proposed expansion of mental health education services, proposed expansion of school-based services, crisis services, supportive housing services -- all of these things will require us to have more space."

Plans for the current building project have been in the works for years -- long before the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut and several other shootings carried out by people thought to have been suffering from mental illness.

Whether it's the economy, less of a stigma associated with mental health, increased public awareness or better access to care, Johnson said the need for mental health services in the region continues to rise.

"I wish I could put my finger on what is happening," he said. "We're seeing it on all fronts. We're kind of astonished at what's happening.

"We are currently at capacity for what we're able to do with the existing space that we have," he added.

Until the new facility can be occupied downtown -- construction is expected to be completed by the end of June -- staff members are working out of several different locations in Worthington. Additional staff has been hired to meet demand, and Johnson said some are doubling up on office space and the community-based workers are occasionally working out of their cars.

"We've actually been hiring and filling positions in anticipation of having the space," he said. "(The new facility) will give us a better place to work out of for folks that we've already hired ... and will give us the ability to hire more people and meet more needs."

Employees of SWMHC commute to Worthington from the tri-state area. In addition to office space here, SWMHC has offices in Luverne, Pipestone and Windom, and also serves the population of Jackson County.

Each of the five counties that are members of SWMHC contributed low-interest loans for the new facility under construction in Worthington. The Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership is the contractor on the $2.4 million project. Nobles County took the lead with a $500,000 loan, followed by the city of Worthington at $400,000, Pipestone County at $199,000, Rock County at $150,000, Cottonwood County at $131,000 and Jackson County at $115,000. SWMHC contributed $500,000 of its reserves for the building project and the remainder of the financing came from First Farmers and Merchants National Bank.

"It's truly a partnership effort with a lot of people coming together," Johnson said. "We think the facility will be a great asset and help us meet the needs of the people of Worthington and folks in the surrounding region for years to come."

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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