Avera Behavioral Health fully reopens after tornado

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (DAKOTA NEWS NOW)- Avera Behavioral Health is marking a milestone. For the first time since an EF-2 tornado directly hit the facility on September 10th of last year, all the services have reopened..

Avera behavioral health fully reopens after tornado

Dr. Matt Stanley remembers driving to Avera Behavioral health the right after the tornado hit.

"You see, building material, you know, several blocks away," said Dr. Stanley.

One of the hardest-hit areas needed to be torn down to the steel structure.

"Surprising that no one was hurt. And as we walked through the facility and look at that destruction, realize how many patients we had to move with just a few minutes of warning," said Dr. Stanley.

Avera Nurse Mataya Otten was inside when the tornado descended on the building and had moved children to a place of shelter in the pediatric unit.

"I had three patients on either side of me and one in my lap," said Otten.

The ceiling fell. They were right below a large metal grid that narrowly missed them.

"It had fallen right around us, which is pretty miraculous. I still get chills when I think about it," said Otten.

Since the tornado, patients and caregivers were at temporary locations in as far away as Yankton. A challenging time brought everyone together.

"My coworkers were just talking the other night, about the camaraderie that was down there, everyone working together on the same team," said Otten.

While the care continued in undamaged parts of the building and elsewhere, construction crews made a few changes to the 108-bed behavioral health center.

"A lot of sunlight. We really wanted to lighten the atmosphere as much as possible. You know, lines of sight open things up as much as possible," said Dr. Stanley.

The changes create a great atmosphere.

"It does make the space look more inviting and opening," said Otten.

More work continues outside.

"We're working on getting a new basketball hoop, a new playground and it's going to be a whole new renovated space. So we're very excited to be done," said Otten.

While the tornado may have been a crisis for the Avera Behavioral Health center caregivers they, in turn, want to help others and are concerned for those delaying because of the pandemic.

"Don't hesitate to seek that help. We see too many bad outcomes from people who are unable or unwilling to reach out," said Dr. Stanley.

The 24/7 assessment center has never stopped, offering anything from appointments with a counselor, to inpatient care. The behavioral health center has five specialized units – three for adults that are based on the needs of the patient, one unit for children and one for adolescents.

"I just encourage everyone to reach out and feel comfortable doing that," said Dr. Stanley.

To reach Avera’s 24-hour behavioral health assessment center, call 1-800-691-4336.