Plans to transform the former Mineral Area Regional Medical Center (MARMC) building into a one-stop mental health center are moving forward with a $2 million grant officially announced recently by the Department of Economic Development of the Missouri.
Through the St. Francis County Auditor’s Office, the East Missouri Action Agency (EMAA) is one of 41 communities receiving a total of $41 million statewide through Community Development Block Grants for COVID-19 Projects (CDBG-CV). EMAA receives the building as a gift from Sharo Shirshekan, who continues to join EMAA in the renovation and repurposing project.
The 43,000 square foot building is owned by Shirsheken, which owns several nursing homes in the state and has donated many renovated buildings – even a fire engine – to municipal and charitable entities over the years. His specialty appears to be taking large, empty buildings and repurposing them for civic or non-profit use. The Bonne Terre Elementary School has been converted into apartments which are now owned by the city and which can be found, for example, in the renovated building of the Bonne Terre Middle School.
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Shirshekan bought the vacant MARMC building in 2017 from BJC, which bought the rival hospital in 2015 and closed it nine months later.
With the title “St. Francis County Behavioral Health Care Project,” the grant verbiage reads, “the county will create a one-site mental health service for those in need of behavioral health services in the south. -eastern Missouri.
The St. Francis County Auditor’s Office has notified EMAA of the CDBG grant and will oversee the financial details of its execution, which will be administered by EMAA as grant applicant.
“Things are starting to move,” said EMAA executive director Keri McCrorey, who said she has a long-term plan to commission the building. “The three-story part will actually house the Great Mines Health Center and then we will work on the rest of the building. We are seeking other grants for the rest of the building. But this is our first initial renovation, this is the three story.
McCrorey said they were working on finding a potential behavioral health hospital operator to come to the top floor of the hospital building.
“We will also be setting up a skilled nursing facility and assisted living facility with a strong focus on behavioral health, potentially substance abuse as well,” she said. “And then the three-story medical building would be Great Mines, which would be their community health center. This will have dental offices, a behavioral health clinic, and then their usual medical clinic.
McCrorey said it was in March 2021 that she and Shirshekan started talking about her vision for the hospital.
“He doesn’t want to run it, he just wanted to connect with someone who would step in and he would help us get it off the ground. EMAA agreed to do that,” she said.
A public hearing was held in November where details of the projects were shared as part of the CDBG grant application process.
“Shirshekan spent several years renovating and obtaining the appropriate permits and certificates of need from the State of Missouri for each type of facility at the resort,” McCrorey told the audience. “We need the $2 million to complete the renovations…”
After the original presentation, Shirshekan said, “This building will provide service from start to finish. People who arrive in a crisis situation can progress to the one-hour crisis or the 23-hour crisis depending on their severity. In a crisis, if they are homeless, there is a 62-bed homeless shelter. They can house them and feed them. We adjust their medications and check what’s wrong with them; physically, mentally and chemically. Sometimes they are over-medicated, we detox them.
He added that the scope of the entire project extends beyond the $2 million grant announced, but he has pledged to fund the rest of the renovation and complete the project.
Governor Mike Parson commented on the CDBG-CV grant recipients in general.
“As our state emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, we are proud that Missourians have stayed the course despite its challenges,” Parson said. “The Community Development Block Grant program helps Missouri communities invest in improvements to prepare for future challenges. By addressing key infrastructure and public safety needs, these projects are building a stronger future and a more resilient Missouri.
Amber Menjoulet, Audit Manager for the St. Francis County Auditor’s Office, made an important observation about the CDBG grant. “There were other counties that received funding, there are only three communities in the state that received the maximum amount of $2 million, which I think is quite significant.”
Sarah Haas is deputy editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or [email protected]