The state legislature’s Judiciary Committee held an interim hearing in Hastings this week to decide if the Hastings Regional Center could be used as a new Behavioral Treatment Center for Nebraska prison inmates.
Hastings Mayor Vern Powers says it’s an industry the city understands.
“We’ve had this since the 1880s,” Mayor Powers says. “An intricate network of professionals was built up at the time but slowly disassembled because of continual threats of, ‘We need to assimiliate into society,’ ‘We need outpatient treatment.’ It was something we fought vigorously at the time. Some outpatient is good but there are lots of people that need to be incarcerated while they’re being treated.”
Powers says building the proposed $43-million facility would be a boost to the local economy and it would be a financially-better alternative than building more jail space.
If approved, the facility would treat mentally ill inmates within 12 to 18 months of being released in order to prepare them to re-enter society.
The head of Mary Lanning Healthcare in Hastings says the hospital stands ready to support the proposed behavioral treatment center. CEO Eric Barber remains cautious as to what resources would be needed, saying the biggest hurdle isn’t recruiting nurses and staff, but rather keeping them them in town.
“We are training new nurses,” Barber says. “Unfortunately, a lot of those young nurses decide to move to Lincoln and Omaha. It’s really a matter of how do we attract that talent to stay here?”
Mary Lanning has several nurse training programs in each of the tri-cities which Barber says could serve as a pipeline to recruit new employees for the treatment center.
In order to build such a facility, senators say there needs to be ample housing. Dave Rippe, with the Hastings Economic Development Corporation, says his office is committed to the effort.
“Hastings has been one of the most active communities in the state, working on the development of senior housing, as well as low-income housing,” Rippe says. “We also have reached out to developers from across the state and region who might have access to finds that our local developers might not have.”
The proposed behavioral treatment center in Hastings includes building a huge structure on state space. The original facility was closed in 2004 and now serves as a juvenile treatment center.
If approved, it would bring close to 300 new jobs to Hastings. A second hearing is scheduled for September 1st.
By Brandon Peoples, KHAS, Hastings