Construction begins at Cornell Family Behavioral Health Facility

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A dirt-filled lot on the Sarasota Memorial campus has begun its transformation into a $71 million behavioral health lodge.

Crews kicked off construction on the future Cornell Family Behavioral Health Center on Wednesday. The groundbreaking brought together health system leaders, government officials and private donors, including Target CEO Brian Cornell, who donated $10 million for the project. The facility is named after him and his wife, Martha Cornell.

The first floor of the three-story facility will accommodate outpatient treatment, counseling and therapy. The second and third floors will accommodate 82 private hospitalization rooms dedicated to specific populations: children, adults, geriatric and acute care.

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Mason Ayres, president of the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation, said the grand opening was timed with a “staggering increase” in the number of people struggling with mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The last few years have really highlighted the need to make comprehensive behavioral health care a priority,” he said.

A note from the World Health Organization showed that the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% in the first year of the pandemic.

Cornell addressed the crowd of attendees packed into a white tent, saying he believes the new facility “will make a difference to so many lives here in Sarasota.”

“I think we can create a model for other communities across America and bring awareness to the needs of so many millions of Americans struggling with health issues,” he said.

His wife, Martha Cornell, also spoke.

“My heart is so full,” she said. “There are so many different facets that affect people’s behavior, so behavioral health is important. It is very important to us that this is where we put our money.

David Verinder, president and CEO of the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, said one in five people suffer from mental illness.

“And that number is even higher because of this pandemic,” he said. “We can guarantee the best outcome…and that’s exactly what this (installation) will do.”

The 95,000-square-foot facility — soon to be on the east side of Osprey Avenue — is slated to open in fall 2023.

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