ST. JOSEPH — Attempts to find a new home for Sacred Heart Serenity Hills Recovery & Wellness Center in Berrien Center have failed, Dr. Loren Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland, told Berrien County commissioners Thursday.
“The challenge we have right now at (the former) Berrien General is at any point, that infrastructure could collapse,” Hamel told the county’s Administrative Committee. “... If we don’t act promptly, we could be in a place where we just can’t keep that building open safely.”
He said Sacred Heart is the only residential drug treatment facility in Berrien County. If Sacred Heart closes, he said many of the people served there will end up in the emergency room or in jail.
Sacred Heart leases part of the building from Spectrum Health Lakeland to operate its 28-bed residential facility and out-patient services. The rest of the building is vacant.
Berrien County sold the former hospital to Lakeland Regional Health System in 1993 with the stipulation that if Lakeland no longer wanted the property, it would revert back to the county.
“It is a decaying building,” Hamel said. “We have done our best to keep this facility safe. We have a roof that should be replaced. We have rotten pipes. The HVAC system is old and could fail.”
Hamel said Spectrum Health Lakeland has been subsidizing Sacred Heart for the past few years, with costs adding up to $1.5 million to $2 million.
“You can’t make money doing this, obviously,” he said. “You’re in this because your heart tells you to. It’s not something that attracts ... for-profit companies to come in and do these kinds of things. You just can’t make money on it.”
Sacred Heart and Berrien County Juvenile Center are the only two properties in that area and share an aging water system and sanitary sewer system.
County commissioners are considering hiring Wightman, an architecture firm in Benton Township, and DLR Group of Chicago to design a new juvenile facility to be placed on property the county owns on Napier Avenue.
Hamel said Spectrum Health Lakeland is advocating for Sacred Heart because it’s the right thing to do. He said it makes sense to build a new facility for drug rehabilitation in conjunction with the juvenile center.
“(Sacred Heart needs) a 14,000-square-foot facility that will cost a little over $5.5 million,” he said. “That will give them the space, I think, to serve the county well for the next generation.”
He said by building the two facilities together, there could be some costs savings.
“I’m not asking the county for $5.5 million, but for what you can do in helping us through grant writing and supporting us in various ways,” he said. “... If we can’t together figure out a way to do this, there will be hundreds and hundreds of people in our county without the care that they need.”
Hamel said Sacred Heart saves lives.
“We get stories of gratitude related to these services every day,” he said.
Hamel is expected to talk to the full board about Sacred Heart in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, Administrator Brian Dissette said he will ask Wightman to draw up plans to see what a joint facility would look like.