Flint, MI—The Genesee Health System’s new children’s facility nears completion, and stakeholders and politicians have begun touring its South Saginaw and West Ninth Street construction site.
The facility, called the Children’s Integrated Service Center, will house GHS services currently operated from different buildings across Flint.
It will include the Autism Health System Services, Neurodevelopment Center of Excellence, Child and Family Services, and a new Federally Registered Health Center (FQHC). The FQHC is where medical and behavioral health clinicians will help address mental health, substance use disorders, dietary issues and more for the city’s most vulnerable populations, like families in social housing and homeless people.
The April 20 tour for Congressman Dan Kildee began outside, on the exterior of the south-facing building.
“This room is specifically designed to be a repository for children,” said Bill Winiarski, president of Children’s Mental Health Facilities Greater Flint, Inc., which owns the building, in Kildee.
Winiarski pointed from the drop-off area to a door, separate from the building’s main entrance. “Because this corner of the building – the first floor on this side – is the autism center,” he said. “It is designed to accommodate up to 100 autistic children. They are delivered daily.
The announcement of the CCIS building was made in April 2021, and its construction has been progressing at a steady pace ever since. As the tour group entered a sleek lobby with floor-to-ceiling windows, GHS CEO Danis Russell estimated the 60,000 square foot facility could open as early as August this year.
Amy Krug, director of development at the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, one of the building’s funders, said the project was “ahead of schedule and under budget.” She noted that the lobby will also house a cafe and workspace for visitors, which she sees as a big improvement for the families the center will serve.
“The fact that we’re able to do this purpose-built installation, actually gives you pause,” she said. “The Neurodevelopment Center of Excellence assessments last three or four hours, and the family has to stay. … Now there are comfortable spaces.
Although the federally licensed health center is new, the services that will be provided at DCIS are otherwise currently housed in leased space across Flint.
As Winiarski continued the tour, he explained how concentrating services under one roof would be convenient for families and helpful for the facility’s workflow.
Winiarski indicated a wing that will house both the FQHC area and the child and family services area.
“Often these services are provided in concert and specifically designed so that one type of system can spill over into the other,” he said. “So as the rooms get closer they are more alike, so if FQHC, for example, needs more treatment rooms, they go to child and family services and vice versa. .”
While Winiarski was instrumental in raising money to build the center and hiring the team to complete it, he spent much of the rest of the tour thanking GHS staff who supported its many other intentional design elements.
Dr. Amelia Fonger, director of behavioral supports at the Centre, said the autism services wing was designed specifically with the needs of children with autism in mind.
“The design is really centered around this ‘pod’ concept,” she said. “The idea being that children benefit a lot from direct one-on-one teaching and intervention, but we also want to prepare them for what’s next, which hopefully is school.”
Fonger pointed to a billboard of the final design, where curved-sided “pods” with a viewing window, a larger space, and a separate smaller space were depicted.
“We wanted the ability to have one-on-one one-on-one instruction, limiting distractions, but also to hang out in a group that’s more like a classroom,” she said. “And the curved concept was really born out of wanting to eliminate awkward corners where kids can easily bump into each other or can’t see what’s going on.”
At the end of the visit, Kildee praised the thoughtful design of the center and the people who made it possible.
“I feel it personally because my original career was treating children with severe disabilities, mental health and emotional disorders,” said Kildee, who was once a staff member at Whaley’s Children Center. “It’s so exciting that design is a feature of care and treatment, rather than design somehow getting in the way of the best care and treatment, for these people.”
GHS CEO Danis Russell said he was also excited about the health system’s new facility for another reason. It’s not just about the convenience of services located together, he said, or even about the design of the facility being influenced by the care it provides.
“I think it represents a commitment to the families and children of Flint,” Russell said of the center. “Now we can say, ‘Here is a building that is yours, and it shows that you are just as important as anyone else in this community.'”