State approves $14.5M in federal funds for Washoe mental health facility

FILE - Nevada Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, chair of the Interim Finance Committee

FILE - Nevada Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, chair of the Interim Finance Committee, speaks during an IFC meeting on Thursday, April 11, 2024, at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building in Las Vegas.

By Casey Harrison

April 16, 2024

Nevada lawmakers have used nearly all of the $2.7 billion given to the state under the American Rescue Plan. But questions remain on how to use the rest.

Roughly $15 million was allocated to renovate a shuttered mental health facility in Washoe County as Nevada lawmakers on Thursday approved approximately $39 million in federal pandemic relief funds for various projects — with nearly half that figure going toward bolstering access to mental health services.

The Nevada State Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee (IFC)—the panel in charge of state spending while the part-time legislature is not in session—allocated $14.5 million for the renovation of the West Hills Behavioral Health Hospital, which closed in 2021.

Washoe County told KTVN in August it purchased the 46,000 square-foot, 95-room facility for $5 million and projected it would take an additional $10 million to rehabilitate the building. The county sought additional funds to cover the first two years of the facility’s operational costs, officials testified.

“We saw the need and the opportunity for the county to be a leader in behavioral health,” Washoe County Commission chairwoman Alexis Hill told the panel. “The county supports our most vulnerable populations; our jailed inmates, our foster children, our sex-trafficked youth, and our homeless population. And they are just not getting the mental health care and the behavioral health care that they need.”

The funds come from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which President Joe Biden signed into law in 2021 to aid the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The law gave Nevada $2.7 billion in aid for an array of uses ranging from staffing for government agencies to filling municipal budget shortfalls to social programs.

The state now has about $6 million in unused ARPA funds remaining that need to be allocated by the end of the fiscal year and spent by 2026.

MORE: Climate change could worsen Nevada’s youth mental health crisis

The nonprofit Vitality Unlimited, which provides substance abuse treatment and behavioral health care statewide, was also awarded $3 million on Thursday to relocate its Carson City treatment center to a nearby location. Carson City has plans to move its health employees to Vitality Unlimited’s current campus, while the nonprofit’s new location is expected to open in April 2025.

Vitality Unlimited primarily services low-income residents, with 63% of its clients on Medicaid, representatives for the nonprofit told the IFC. Approximately 42% of its clients suffered from both mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

Additionally, $17 million will go toward 14 Boys and Girls Clubs statewide. Officials with the Boys and Girls Clubs say the money will primarily go toward renovating program sites, including programs for youth healthcare interventions. They estimated the new cash infusion could allow for an increase of up to 1,000 new participants.

“We’ll be almost doubling our capacity,” said Noelle Hardt, vice president of government affairs for the Nevada Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs.

The final $5 million in last week’s allocation was doled out for a Las Vegas affordable housing project that aims to give 125 individuals with either intellectual or developmental disabilities resources to live independently. Officials said the project is tentatively scheduled to break ground in August and will be completed by late 2026.

In March, the IFC agreed to pull roughly $23 million in previously approved funding for mental health projects over concerns those projects likely wouldn’t meet federal deadlines. That included funding for four state health projects and personnel in the state agency responsible for children and family mental health, according to The Nevada Independent.

Instead, those funds were spent on increasing police presence on college campuses in Southern Nevada and security cameras at two correctional facilities.

Legislators on Thursday also criticized what they called a lack of cooperation with Gov. Joe Lombardo’s office over a food assistance program aimed at providing free meals for children.

The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services sought a transfer of $905,206 in federal grants to the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, with the understanding the IFC at a meeting in June would hear a request for an additional $6 million using a different government account, the IFC Contingency Account.

But that request was coupled with another that would de-obligate $9 million in previously-approved ARPA funds already allocated to the program (known as the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer Program) due to what the request called “lower-than-expected needs.”

“Why are we not using money for this new program?” Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) asked. “I fail to understand why [using ARPA funds] wasn’t the option that was brought to this body to use dollars that we know we have to get rid of before the end of the year for money to feed children.”

The panel approved the former request and rejected the latter, stating instead they would transfer those funds at a meeting in June to a program designed to provide free school meals during the summertime.

The Summer EBT program provides eligible low-income families with $40 per child per month for three summer months, according to the Nevada Current. States pay half the cost of administering the program, while the federal government covers the other half, as well as the $40 monthly cost for families.

Using the IFC’s contingency fund would put the account at a balance of about $11 million—a figure officials say they’re uncomfortable leaving that low.

“ARPA is a shared responsibility,” said Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas). Yeager also noted Lombardo, a Republican, vetoed a bill during last year’s legislative session that would have made the free school meal program permanent.

“I feel like this is an issue that could have been solved before we got to this meeting, if we had been at all advised that there was a program coming forward to feed kids.”

  • Casey Harrison

    Casey Harrison is political correspondent for The Nevadan. Previously, he covered politics and the Oakland Athletics' relocation to Southern Nevada for the Las Vegas Sun, and before that, was a digital producer at The Detroit News. Casey graduated from Michigan State University in 2019.

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