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Crisis center for mentally ill patients planned
Decatur Daily - 7/25/2021
Jul. 25—Help for the mentally ill is coming soon for the Decatur area with the Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama's planned construction, with assistance from the state, of a crisis center on U.S. 31 South.
The 16-bed, 12,000-square-foot center will be built on property owned by the Alabama National Guard and on an adjacent property where the former State Trooper post is located, Mental Health Center Executive Director Lisa Coleman said.
"We've been working on this for two years," Coleman said. "We've got to secure the land (roughly 9 acres between the two properties), but we're already working with an architect so we could be up and running by the 2022-23 fiscal year."
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, has been Coleman's main advocate in helping put the many parts of the deal together. They found out that the Mental Health Center's building at U.S. 31, next to what was once the Lurleen B. Wallace Center, was actually titled to the National Guard. The National Guard bought the property for a planned training center that never materialized.
Orr said the National Guard sold most of the 160-acre Wallace Center property to the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, but kept about 5 acres where the center's Decatur-Morgan Counseling Center is located "to protect" the Mental Health Center.
Orr said he then approached the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency about donating the adjacent 4-acre property that is the site of the abandoned State Trooper post.
"I told (ALEA head) Hal Taylor, 'If you're not using the property, we need it,'" Orr said.
Orr said he got $1.2 million allocated to the Alabama Department of Mental Health, to be used by the Mental Health Center for the new crisis center, in the state's fiscal 2022 budget.
Coleman said the Department of Mental Health committed to providing funding for the project. Her initial estimate was $2.4 million but she and Orr said they expect building the center will exceed that cost.
Coleman said the state Mental Health Department did a statewide assessment of the gaps in mental health, and the "Alabama Crisis Redesign" plan came out of this study.
She said the study found that in 2013-14 Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence — the three counties that her center covers — plus the Riverbend area of Lauderdale, Colbert and Franklin counties lacked the beds it needed for the mentally ill.
Coleman said these counties did not receive crisis centers when other parts of the state did seven years ago and population growth since them has resulted in a critical shortage of beds for the mentally ill. — Involuntary commitment
When Morgan County Probate Judge Greg Cain and other probate judges receive a petition for involuntary commitment and determine the person is mentally ill, a danger to himself or others and can't make rational decisions about treatment, they need a facility with available beds so the person can be treated during the commitment period.
For Cain, that has become a huge challenge. The committed person must be sent to facilities in Cullman, Madison, Jasper or Anniston on the rare occasion that one of the facilities has beds available.
"That means two deputies have to leave Morgan County and take all of that time to drive a patient to one of those cities," Orr said.
Cain said Decatur Morgan Hospital — West Campus, a mental health facility, has 10 beds for adults plus beds for children and geriatric patients. Decatur-West takes voluntary patients, not just those who are committed by courts in the area, and it stays full most of the time.
"Once we contact Decatur-West and find out that a bed is available, the person has to be transferred to the ER to make sure they are medically stable and not on any drugs," Cain said.
Cain said the patient is held at the hospital until the judge can hold the involuntary commitment hearing. If he rules the patient should be committed, the patient then has to wait for a bed to open in one of the four cities.
Cain said he usually has three to four commitment petitions active on a weekly basis, and he often has to delay the hearings because he knows no beds are available if he commits the patient. It does no good to order a patient placed in the custody of the state Department of Mental Health unless a mental health facility has a place for the patient.
"The situation is extremely bad," Cain said. "It's not enough, but adding 16 beds will be a great help."
Cain said a patient can be committed for up to 150 days. The facility director can discharge a patient at any time if he or she "decides the person is stable." At the end of 150 days, the facility has to file for re-commitment if the doctor believes more time is needed. A re-commitment can be granted for up to one year.
Coleman wasn't sure how many people the new center will employ. She said it would employ psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, case managers, peer support specialists and many more.
"We would need enough employees for three shifts to cover 24 hours, seven days a week," Coleman said.
— firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.
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