Mental health takes big step forward in state

Media Contact: Susan Gregg,, 206.390.9226

Mental health in our region took a huge step forward with the groundbreaking of a new building at UW Medical Center–Northwest to care for patients and train the next generation of behavioral health providers.

The six- story, 184,000 square-foot building is expected to open in late 2023. It is part of a massive effort by Washington state lawmakers to put mental health on parity with other areas of health care.

“This new beginning is the end of a long journey,” said Dr. Jürgen Unützer, chair of psychiatry & behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “In two short years, we will open a state-of-the-art training facility to heal visible and invisible injuries.”

Unützer, referred to as the “behavioral health whisperer” in state government, thanked lawmakers for this incredible milestone in behavioral health. He said the facility, run by UW Medicine, will offer compassionate and effective care, and give hope to many.

The groundbreaking was attended by several community leaders who took a Husky shovel in honor of the new building and all it means for the state, including Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), Cynthia Hecker, UW Medical Center CEO; Ana Mari Cauce, University of Washington president; Rep. Frank Chopp (D-Seattle); Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle); Rashi Gupta, senior policy analyst, House Democratic Caucus; Larry Brown, president of the Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO; Rogelio Riojas, head of Sea Mar Community Health Centers, vice chair of UW Medical Center’s Board and chair of UW Board of Regents. Many other community leaders provided video remarks.

“When the building opens, it will offer patients and their families exceptional care in a welcoming and healing environment, along with being a vital training site for future healthcare providers,” said Hecker, UW Medical Center CEO. 

The facility will have approximately 100 behavioral health beds will for patients who are elderly, civilly committed, or seeking voluntary treatment for psychiatric disorders. 

Healthcare providers will support the full continuum of services for individuals with medical and behavioral health disorders. These services will range from medication-management and psychotherapies, including neuromodulation, as well as medical and surgical care. The facility will be home to an interdisciplinary training program that will prepare and support the next generation of behavioral health providers in Washington state.

The facility will also have space for 24-hour, seven-days-a week telepsychiatry services for providers throughout the state.

In 2019, Gov. Inslee and the Washington State Legislature took decisive action to address the state’s behavioral health crisis. They invested millions to transform the state’s aging mental health hospitals and older model of care to one that emphasizes smaller, community-based treatment and services, such as drop-in facilities, clubhouses for peer support, and crisis services, as well as funding discharge facilities so people don’t go back on the street.

With support from Gov. Inslee and the Washington State Legislature, the facility is funded by $234 million in state appropriations.

Sen. Frockt, vice chair of the state Ways and Means Committee and the lead budget writer for the state, said that when it came time to vote for funding behavioral health, there were no dissents.

“Everybody knows someone with a mental health challenge,” he said.

Rep. Chopp, who wrote the bill authorizing funding for the new facility, said that his sister, who suffers from bipolar disorder, was one of the many people who spoke to lawmakers about the critical need for investing in mental health parity.

The project team, which has been meeting for the past 18 months, includes Clark|Abbott Construction, SRG architects, the UW Project Delivery Group, and many UW Medicine staff and providers.

The design vision for the new building was to create a noninstitutional setting that includes patient terraces, open-concept dining, and maximizing sunlight and views. Design features include large-scale terracotta tiles on the outside walls, a therapeutic sensory space for patients, and color schemes of soft yellow, sage, and other Pacific Northwest colors.

Watch video coverage of the ceremony.

-- Written by Bobbi Nodell, 206.543.7129,

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