A 16-bed mental illness residential crisis unit could become a reality in Decatur, Ala., by late 2023 if funding continues to flow in, and it would likely ease the strain on the Morgan County Jail, the Decatur Daily reported May 13.
The Morgan County Commission recently allocated $600,000 to help in funding the construction of the facility, slated to be built at the site of the former Alabama state trooper building on U.S. Highway 31 South in Decatur.
Lisa Coleman, executive director of the Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama, said she is targeting this fall for construction to begin, adding that the overall cost of the building project will be between $5 million and $6 million.
With the county commission's allocation, about $2.5 million for the mental health center has been secured.
Alabama State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) told the Decatur Daily he was able to get another $1.2 million put in the state general fund for the proposed facility.
"And because of the increase in costs related to the pandemic and supply chain, we've added another $700,000 to make the committed funds total $1.9 million thus far," Orr added.
William Giguere, a development officer with the Mental Health Center of North Alabama, said that his association is applying for a $300,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant to help fund the construction, with help from the North Central Alabama Regional Council of Governments.
Construction costs are up, and delivery of materials is slowed by supply chain issues, he noted.
"Everyone is dealing with supply chain, but the land is secured and that is important," explained Giguere. "A sizable chunk of project funding is in hand, and more is coming. We're optimistic."
In addition, he told the Decatur news source that the Mental Health Center will reach out to the Decatur City Council and other groups for matching money.
Land for the Facility Was Donated
Coleman said the facility will be the fifth crisis residential unit in the state's Region 1, which encompasses 20 counties in north and central Alabama, stretching from Georgia to Mississippi, down to Guntersville and Jasper. The other four are in Jasper, Cullman, Anniston and Huntsville.
"This facility will be only for patients who have been committed by a probate judge to the [Alabama] Department of Mental Health [ADMH]," she said. "[It] will be next door to our counseling center with our outpatient programs there, [making it] convenient for people needing the services so they don't have to travel everywhere."
Plans call for the residential crisis unit to encompass about 12,000 sq. ft., and include ample parking, she said.
Orr noted that Hal Taylor, secretary of law enforcement for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), deeded the building and surrounding 2.9 acres for the mental health unit last November.
"I went to ALEA and was able to get it transferred from ALEA to the mental health center," he said. "Hal Taylor was very kind and gracious to donate that site. He said the state was not going to use that property in the foreseeable future."
Orr told the Decatur Daily that Kim Boswell, commissioner of the ADMH, "is committed to annually providing operating funds for the center."
Officials Believe Center Will Ease Jail's Burden
Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long and District 2 Commissioner Randy Vest said the crisis residential unit will alleviate some of the county jail's responsibility for prisoner with mental health issues.
"We're needing it," Long said. "In our jail, 40 percent of inmates right now have mental issues. They need to be in a hospital, not a jail cell. We work with the mental health association on the Stepping Up Initiative program. Most people, once they get that help, never return to jail. It's going to be money well spent."
The Stepping Up program focuses on providing psychiatric treatment to reduce the number of mentally ill people reentering jail or using hospital emergency rooms, according to Decatur Daily.
Vest, who made the motion for the commission to provide $600,000 from the county's $23 million in America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, added, "the facility will give the county an option on placing people needing treatment and should save us some money in the long run."
Morgan County Sheriff's office spokesperson Mike Swafford said the jail will see an instant savings on transporting inmates with mental health issues. He said the department currently must use two officers to transfer a single inmate to one of Region 1's existing four crisis centers.
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