Flint, MI—The Genesee Health System’s new children’s facility is nearing completion, and stakeholders and politicians have begun to tour its South Saginaw and West Ninth Street worksite.
The facility, called the Center for Children’s Integrated Services, will house GHS services currently being operated from different buildings across Flint.
It will include the health system’s Autism Services, Neurodevelopment Center for Excellence, Child and Family Services, as well as a new Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). The FQHC is where medical and behavioral health clinicians will help address mental health, substance use disorders, food concerns and more for the city’s most vulnerable populations, like families in public housing and those experiencing homelessness.
The April 20 tour for Congressman Dan Kildee began outside, on the building’s south-facing exterior.
“This piece is specifically designed to be a drop off for children,” said Bill Winiarski, Chairman of Greater Flint Children’s Mental Health Facilities, Inc., the building’s owner, to Kildee.
Winiarski pointed from the drop-off area up to a door, separate of the building’s main entrance. “Because this corner of the building—the first floor on this side—is the autism center,” he said. “It’s designed for up to 100 autistic children. They get delivered every day.”
The announcement of the CCIS building was made in April 2021, and its buildout has been moving along at a steady pace since. As the tour group entered a sleek lobby of floor-to-ceiling windows, GHS CEO Danis Russell estimated the 60,000 square foot facility could open as early as August of this year.
Amy Krug, Director of Development at the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, one of the building’s funding providers, said the project was “ahead of schedule and under budget.” She noted the lobby will also house a café and workspace for visitors, something she viewed as a great improvement for the families the center will serve.
“The fact that we’re able to do this purpose-built facility, you’re actually able to put in some thought,” she said. “The Neurodevelopment Center for Excellence assessments take three or four hours, and the family has to stay. … Now, there’s comfortable spaces.”
While the Federally Qualified Health Center is new, the services that will be provided at CCIS are otherwise currently housed in leased spaces across Flint.
As Winiarski continued the tour, he explained how concentrating the services under the same roof will be convenient for families as well as helpful for the facility’s workflow.
Winiarski pointed to a wing that will house both the FQHC area and the Child and Family Services area.
“A lot of times those services are delivered in concert and specifically designed so that one type of system can overflow into the other,” he said. “So as the rooms get closer together, they’re more similar, so if FQHC, for example, needs more treatment rooms, they flow into Child and Family Services and vice versa.”
While Winiarski has been instrumental in gathering funds for the center’s construction and hiring the team to complete it, he spent much of the rest of the tour crediting the GHS staff who supported its many other intentional design elements.
Dr. Amelia Fonger, the Center’s Director of Behavioral Supports, said the Autism Services wing was designed specifically with the needs of children with autism in mind.
“The design really centers around this ‘pod’ concept,” she said. “With the idea being that kids benefit a lot from one-on-one direct teaching and intervention, but we also want to prepare them for what’s next—which hopefully is school.”
Fonger pointed to a posterboard of the final design, where curved-wall “pods” with an observation window, a larger space, and smaller separate space, were depicted.
“We wanted the opportunity to have one-on-one individual instruction, limiting distractions, but also to come out in a group that’s more like a classroom,” she said. “And the curved concept really just came from wanting to eliminate harsh corners where kids can easily collide or can’t see what’s coming.”
At the conclusion of the tour, Kildee praised the center’s thoughtful design and the people making it possible.
“I feel it personally because my original career was in treatment of kids with severe disabilities, mental health, and emotional disturbance,” said Kildee, who was once a staff member at Whaley’s Children Center. “It’s just so exciting to have the design be a feature of the care and the treatment, as opposed to the design being sort of in the way of the best care and treatment, for these individuals.”
GHS CEO Danis Russell said he is excited about the health system’s new facility for another reason, too. It isn’t just about the convenience of services being located together, he said, or even the facility’s design being influenced by the care it offers.
“I think it represents commitment to the families and the kids of Flint,” Russell said of the center. “Now we can say ‘Here is a building that is yours, and that shows that you are just as important as anyone else in this community.’”