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A new mental health facility opens in Asheville this August

 A group of local medical and community leaders are gathered in front of the new Sweeten Creek Mental Health & Wellness Center for a ribbon cutting.
BPR News
Sweeten Creek Mental Health & Wellness Center held its ribbon cutting on July 18, 2023.

A new behavioral health facility, built to accommodate everyone from children to geriatric patients, opens this August off Sweeten Creek Road between Asheville’s Oakley and Shiloh neighborhoods.

The Sweeten Creek Mental Health & Wellness Center is owned and operated by Mission Health (a subsidiary of HCA Health Care) and will replace the Copestone behavioral health services unit currently operating out of Mission's St. Joseph's Campus on Biltmore Avenue near downtown Asheville.

The new space is part of the agreement HCA Healthcare made in 2019 when it acquired Mission Hospital. As promised, HCA built the facility  within five years of making the purchase and obtaining the permits.

At the center’s ribbon cutting ceremony on July 18, Mission Health Psychiatry Medical Director Dr. Ed Kelley remarked on the difference this new facility will make for patients.

"The community need has just grown and grown over the years,” he said. “The emergency rooms are just filled with patients waiting for beds right now. So this is really helping that decompress that need and get more people help because it's just a desperate problem right now."

The 84,000 square foot facility cost $62 million to build. It offers 120 beds – adding 38 more patient beds to Mission’s capacity.
Both acute inpatient and outpatient care will be available with separate and secure units for each age group: youth, adolescent, adult, and geriatric. Each age group will also have its own private outdoor courtyard, as well as a “psych-safe playground” for kids, basketball court for adults, and an outdoor walking trail for the geriatric space.

“You’ll notice this isn't called a hospital,” Kelley said. “It's called a health and wellness center because it's not just a hospital. We are actually going to look at people and teach them how to be well, how to heal, how to take care of themselves.”

The center also makes space for more holistic mental health support. Pet therapy – featuring a labradoodle named Jasper – will take place five times a week in the child and adolescent units, a volunteer program which will soon expand to the geriatric and adult units.

Poetry and collages sprinkle the walls of the art and music therapy room. Recreational therapists will lead regular wellness activities like yoga, mindfulness practices, basketball, and wall ball. Raised garden beds will provide an opportunity for outside activities.

Floor-length murals of the Appalachian mountains and other nature scenes line some sections of the center’s grey hallways. Natural light is ample in the beds and many of the hallways. There’s also a large cafeteria with an onsite chef, as well as a pharmacy.

To get admitted to the center, patients in need of mental health care must first undergo a medical screening from an emergency physician to confirm they’re medically stable, Kelley said.

“We don't have our own medical facilities for complex care here, so we've gotta make sure somebody's stable enough to come over here. And the emergency room would be the place that they get that medical clearance.”

While the average length of stay will vary by unit, Kelley expects most patients will stay about a week.

"The concept is we don't want to warehouse people anymore. We don't want them stuck here,” he said. We want to help them get through their crisis, get stabilized, and then get support in the community so that they can thrive in their home environment rather than being stuck in a hospital.”

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.