SEDGWICK COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — A new $40 million mental health hospital is coming to South Central Kansas by 2026.

On Monday, the governor-appointed South Central Regional Psychiatric Hospital Advisory Panel met for the first time to begin planning for the project.

The panel is staffed by 14 state and local leaders in government, law enforcement, and mental health advocates.

“This issue is not going away,” said Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter.

Over the next two years, the panel will work on a workforce pipeline to staff anywhere from 115 to 200 employees at the hospital.

Wichita State University Chief Psychologist Dr. Jessica Provines said the growth and demand for mental health resources over the last decade is unprecedented.

“It is time that we really build up our mental health resources that we can meet the demand,” said Dr. Provines.

The panel wants the hospital to work alongside existing mental health services.

The group will also work to pick a location.

They are looking at multiple options, such as a vacant lot of seven to 11 acres or an existing building that is at least 76,000 square feet.

Sheriff Easter is serving on the panel.

He said the wait can be long for those awaiting criminal psychiatric evaluations. Right now, some have waited more than 400 days to be seen.

“This has been an ongoing issue just because of all the issues at Larned and staffing and overcrowded and those types of things,” said Sheriff Easter.

With at least 50 new beds, half are reserved for criminal patients.

Sheriff Easter said it would benefit other parts of the state by reducing wait times.

He adds it needs to be safe for patients and the community.

“The citizens in Sedgwick County or wherever this is placed have got to know that place is secure just like a jail is,” said Sheriff Easter.

The next step for the panel is to hear from the community on locations, concerns, or questions. They want to do this by the end of the year.

The hospital is expected to be fully built by the end of 2026.