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Mental health crisis care centers to be built in Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville

MONTGOMERY — State officials gathered on the steps of the capitol Wednesday morning to announce the details surrounding three new mental health crisis care centers to be built around the state.

AltaPointe Health in Mobile, the Montgomery Area Mental Health Authority and WellStone Behavioral Health in Huntsville will be receiving grants from the State of Alabama to build the crisis centers.

Governor Kay Ivey, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and Dept. of Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear all spoke at the announcement.

Each center will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They are intended to keep people with mental illnesses out of jails and hospital emergency rooms, two places not designed to accommodate such patients.

“Most importantly,” said the governor at the event, the centers will “improve the quality of life for Alabama families and communities.”

The three centers have been a top priority for Ivey and Ledbetter this year. The governor first mentioned the initiative in her State of the State address in January, and Ledbetter shepherded the funding of the project – $18 million – through the legislative process during the spring session.

Commissioner Beshear referred to the newly announced centers as “pilot grantees” who were selected by an “independent review panel comprised of national experts in crisis care along with subject matter experts in mental illness and substance use.”

Stays in the centers could be as short as a few hours and as long as a few days, according to Beshear, who noted the locations will be staffed by mental and physical health professionals.

Beshear called the type of care that will be provided “recovery-based” and relayed that patients will be given a “warm handoff” after their short stay to services or agencies that can provide longer-term assistance.

Each center will have a “mobile crisis teams” with a law enforcement component that will be able to go into nearby communities and deal with dangerous situations that have mental health issues at their core.

Beshear reiterated multiple times that her department will work closely with the centers to ensure they provide a “continuum of care” to the patients they take in. She said her department has the goal of “opening the gateway to care.”

In terms of size and design, the three centers will vary.

AltaPointe’s center in Mobile will have 21 beds with 15 designated for temporary observation. The center will be open for dropoffs from several nearby counties.

Montgomery Area Mental Health Authority is partnering with two similar organizations to have its center serve 11 counties. The building will be in the capital city, and it will have 21 beds with 10 for temporary observation.

The facility to be built by WellStone Behavioral Health in Huntsville will be the largest of the centers. Local governments in the area are providing an additional $2.1 million. It will have 39 beds, including 15 for temporary observation.

Ivey was asked near the end of the event about the decision not to locate a center in the Birmingham area. She replied that the three centers announced Wednesday were “just the beginning” and “plans for more” are already underway.

“Today is a day of celebration,” said Ledbetter about the approval of the funding for the three sites.

He further remarked he had “never seen a more bipartisan effort” than the legislative push around the project.

“Today’s announcement will not only change Alabamians’ lives. It will help to save lives,” Ledbetter advised.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @HenryThornton95