AP’s Healthcare Construction Expertise Helps Address Growing Demand for Mental Health

Bob Lemke, vice president of operations with Adolfson & Peterson Construction

Last month, Adolfson & Peterson Construction broke ground on an addition to Rio Vista Behavioral Health Hospital in El Paso. The facility, owned and operated by behavioral healthcare services provider Acadia Healthcare, offers comprehensive care for men, women, and children struggling with mental health and substance abuse concerns.

The Rio Vista facility is just one of several mental health projects AP has been involved in over the past several years. In fact, we have a long history of constructing healthcare facilities, from acute care buildings to smaller clinics.

Nationally and locally, there’s a mental health crisis – one that the ongoing pandemic and other factors have exacerbated. As a result, both public and private providers are working to offer relief to Texans across the state, ramping up development of these facilities and driving growth in this specific segment of healthcare construction.

The mental health crisis

The pandemic has taken a huge toll on Americans’ psychological well-being and shined a spotlight on mental health issues. One in three adults reported symptoms of an anxiety disorder in 2020, compared with one in 12 in 2019. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that overdose deaths spiked after the start of the pandemic, driven by synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

But it’s not just the pandemic that’s made our collective mental health so much worse. Social justice issues, geopolitical unrest, and extreme weather events like Kentucky’s recent tornadoes are all contributors.

There’s significant evidence mental health issues are worsening across the U.S. Nearly one in five adults live with a mental health condition in the U.S., which is more than 51 million people, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. One in eight of all visits to U.S. emergency departments are related to mental and substance use disorders, and serious mental illness causes $193.2 billion in lost earnings each year.

One huge sign is the increasing prevalence of suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34 and the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by an astounding 35% since 1999. Suicide rates, particularly among children, young adults, and veterans, have spiked.

Mental health treatment shortage

There’s no question that the U.S. not only needs more mental healthcare, but also more access points for people to receive care. Before the pandemic, nearly 60% of adults with behavioral health disorders reported not receiving services for their conditions.

Across the nation, there’s a shortage of clinicians, as well as inpatient psychiatric beds and care models that address middle-income Americans. More than 100 million people live in areas that have a shortage of mental health professionals.

And due to several decades of deinstitutionalization, the availability of inpatient psychiatric and 24-hour residential treatment beds has declined significantly. Consequently, local jails and state prisons often end up housing mentally ill individuals who have nowhere else to go.

As of October 2021, there were roughly 1,838 people in the criminal justice system waiting for a state hospital bed. This represents a record number and an increase of 150% compared to three years ago.

At least a fifth of all prisoners in the U.S. have a mental illness of some kind, and between 25% and 40% of mentally ill people will be incarcerated at some point in their lives, according to the Judicial Commission on Mental Health.

AP is helping solve this problem by working with Rockwall County in North Texas to design and build a county jail expansion with dedicated mental health space for inmates in need of treatment.

Population growth driving demand and change in Texas

When it comes to overall access to mental healthcare, Texas has its challenges. Recently, the state ranked 50th out of 51 in Mental Health America’s 2021 State of Mental Health in America report. Mental illness and addiction rates have risen in tandem with population increases in major cities across Texas, causing a dire need for more access points for care.

Population growth across the state is driving much of the increased demand. From 2010 to 2020, Texas’s population grew by a whopping 15.9% or nearly four million people, bringing the state’s total population to 29.1 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Both private and public health providers are striving to address the mental health needs of Texans. For example, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission is investing $745 million to construct and renovate state psychiatric hospitals in Austin, Kerrville, Rusk, and San Antonio, as well as a new hospital in Houston. It also has allocated $44.7 million to plan and purchase land for a new hospital in Dallas.

AP’s project with Acadia Healthcare in El Paso, designed by Stengel Hill Architects, will provide Rio Vista Behavioral Health Center with a new two-story, 40-bed unit and outdoor recreation space encompassing 38,000 square feet. It also includes a new one-story outpatient center with additional parking and flatwork encompassing 14,000 square feet.

Recently, the treatment facility launched remote services to continue serving patients throughout the pandemic and opened a 20-bed S.T.A.R. Military and Veteran’s Unit to provide customized treatment programs tailored to the needs of active-duty service members, veterans, and first responders. Construction on the expansion project will begin in January 2022 and wrap up in summer 2023.

Additionally, AP supports mental health treatment across the nation through our work on higher education facilities, hospitals, correctional facilities, office buildings, and even public safety facilities such as police stations.

The growing mental health crisis even hits close to home. According to the Center for Workplace Mental Health’s 2021 survey on mental health in the construction industry, a majority of leaders believe that addressing mental health at work through promoting awareness and encouraging help is a priority. AP is no different, and we put our belief into action through a robust employee assistance program (EAP) and the projects we choose to pursue.

We expect more private mental health providers will continue to expand to meet the growing need for mental health services across the country. And as they do, we are committed to helping them construct facilities that improve the mental health of the communities in which we live and build.


Bob Lemke

Bob Lemke is vice president of Operations for Adolfson and Peterson Construction (AP), a family-owned company that is consistently ranked among the top construction managers and general contractors in the nation, while maintaining one of the safest records in the industry. He is responsible for strategic planning, risk management and operational decisions, as well as ensuring the satisfaction of all project stakeholders and confirming success at every phase of AP’s projects.

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