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Alabama Department of Mental Health seeks 3 crisis centers

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Department of Mental Health is asking the Legislature for $18 million to create three crisis diversion centers around the state.

Department Commissioner Lynn Beshear said these centers will ensure those facing mental health crises will get the proper care, instead of just ending up in a county jail or an emergency room.

“These centers allow for the most intensive levels of care at a centralized location in a cost effective manner,” Beshear told lawmakers Thursday during General Fund agency budget hearings at the State House.

According to information from ADMH, crisis diversion centers provide a physical access point for care for people who may otherwise end up in emergency rooms or jails.  Centers include both walk-in access for individuals and the ability for emergency departments and law enforcement agencies to transfer people to the center for crisis care, including short-term admission, medication management, case management, discharge planning, and connection to ongoing behavioral health care services.

House Ways and Means General Fund chairman Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said he has heard of the need for diversion centers from constituents and law enforcement.

“Police departments don’t know what to do and the local county jails can keep them overnight but they don’t have a long-term solution for them,” Clouse told ADN. “I think it’s something that’s warranted.”

Where the centers would be is still to be determined. Contingent on the 2021 budget allocations, Beshear said they plan on awarding the crisis diversion projects by July 1.

Along with issuing the request for proposal, Beshear also plans on holding multi-stakeholder meetings with law enforcement, probate judges, hospitals, consumers and advocates about the different needs for the centers.

The state closed three of its mental health hospitals in 2012 and 2014 in an effort to save money and move patients from institutions to smaller, community based settings. But some probate judges have said the loss of North Alabama Regional Hospital in Decatur has made it harder for them to quickly commit someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

In a 2016 report, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, public-private partnership,  called for more crisis facilities nationwide like Beshear is requesting. The report describes crisis residential facilities are six to 16 bed facilities “ofen more home-like than institutional.” 

Beshear also requested $7.4 million to improve forensic services for those charged with a crime and ordered to undergo an evaluation to determine if they can withstand trial and their mental status.

About $5.4 million would create a 16-bed hospital-like secure forensic unit for those under evaluation. About $2 million would go toward recruiting and retaining staff, including forensic evaluators, psychiatrists and nurses.

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