Construction of Lakeland Regional Health’s Center for Behavioral Health & Wellness has been put on hold due to loss of revenue stemming from the pandemic.

LRH delayed the project before the start of construction, which had been scheduled for April. Executives plan to reassess the situation in late summer to decide whether to move forward or continue the delay, according to Lance Green, vice president and chief financial officer of LRH; he said they will consider their finances and the pandemic’s progress.

In November, LRH announced it would be building the center to offer more in-patient and out-patient services for behavioral health. It would be located on property just south of the main hospital complex that used to be part of the city of Lakeland’s Adair Park.

At the time, executives were hoping to move quickly to build the facility, which would have 96 in-patient beds and out-patient services such as addiction treatment and psychotherapy. The facility is intended to be a “nurturing space” that would help with interrelated social issues such as homelessness and substance abuse.

But in late March and all of April, LRH received far less revenue than expected due to the March 20 executive order from the state that restricted elective surgeries and outpatient procedures. In addition, fewer patients visited the Emergency Department and physician clinics during this time.

Construction “was expected to begin in April, but we put a pause on the project to conserve cash flow and resources to focus on our pandemic response,” Green said.

Green said money was put toward purchasing personal protective equipment (such as gowns, masks and gloves) and COVID-19 care-related equipment; preparing facilities to have COVID and non-COVID areas; increasing their telehealth capabilities; and creating remote work initiatives.

No other projects were put on hold due to the pandemic, according to Jennifer Audette, LRH’s director of public relations and communications.

Artist rendering shows a courtyard and two of three single-story behavioral health buildings.

Green said LRH did find savings in other areas. In locations and departments where the workload declined, they reduced staffing hours. To try to ease the impact on staff who had to work less, LRH let them use paid time off. LRH also spent less money on medical supplies and services as a result of performing fewer elective surgeries and procedures.

Altogether, Green said the hospital experienced net operating losses totaling $6.3 million in the financial quarter that went from April 1 to June 30. Net operating income is a business’s revenue minus operating expenses.

The state allowed elective surgeries to resume in early May. Green said in May and June, the number of elective procedures began to normalize, while Emergency Department visits were about 30 percent lower than normal. Thirty percent was an improvement from April, when emergency visits were down more than 60 percent, according to an article available to Tampa Bay Business Journal subscribers that reported on the financials of Tampa Bay area hospitals as they deal with the effects of the pandemic.

As cases of COVID-19 have risen in Florida, some hospitals have again stopped elective procedures, voluntarily this time. Green said LRH would do that if the hospital needed more beds or staff to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients. So far, they have not needed to do that.

LRH’s income and expenses will affect the speed with which the Center for Behavioral Health & Wellness can be built.

Meanwhile, people who need behavioral health services can still receive help at the hospital, which has 68 beds that can be used for behavioral health.

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