Gainesville and Alachua County join efforts for mental health crisis center


The green light has been given to develop a central drop-in facility that would treat people experiencing mental health or substance abuse crises in Alachua County.

It is a project that has been discussed for over a decade.

Officials in the city of Gainesville and Alachua County said they have the money to build the facility, as well as some operational costs for the facility, which would be on top of Meridian Behavior Healthcare, 4300 Southwest 13th St.

There, adults or children in mental health or drug or alcohol crisis would first be treated and then referred to other agencies as part of a coordinated care model. At present, these people can be taken to hospital emergency departments or to prison.

On Monday, the Alachua County Commission and the City of Gainesville Commission praised the project and asked staff to continue to seek a source for ongoing operational costs, which they believe will be the real deal. challenge.

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The annual operating cost is estimated at $ 2.5 million, with about $ 800,000 coming from private insurance and Medicaid, but still leaving a bill of about $ 1.7 million each year.

Alachua County and the City of Gainesville have each agreed to fund at least $ 250,000 for construction.

The county set aside $ 1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the project, and the city of Gainesville requested a $ 1.4 million credit from the state for operational costs.

Next step: how to pay operating costs

Meridian Behavioral Healthcare offers a number of patient services, including specializations in crisis stabilization and rehabilitation.

Alachua County Commission chairwoman Marihelen Wheeler said in Monday’s meeting that it made sense to move forward with construction of the addition to Meridian as operating funds are available. research.

She said that even if the state decides not to fund operating costs, there will still be a wing in this center that can be used to treat people.

“What have we lost? We haven’t lost the building,” she said. “We’ve tried to put in the effort. And if we’re successful, as I think we’re going to do, it gives us the momentum to continue getting the funding we need to keep going.”

She said she was considering a smaller addition to Meridian for the central reception like the Apalachicola facility.

Donald Savoie, CEO of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, said if the center is up and running it may be eligible for state and federal grants and other funding to keep it running. But these grants are not available if the center is not operational, he said.

“It’s kind of a chicken and egg, but I would agree with you if we could move on and do that for a few years (that would help),” he said. “But it’s a leap of faith from a long-term (operational funding) point of view.”

He said that in this construction market, it would take a year to a year and a half for the project to be built.

Mayor Lauren Poe said on Friday that the construction estimate for the project had likely doubled to a total of $ 1 million since the first estimate. He said the city was in favor of half of that, as it did when the number was half of that.

Poe said the American Rescue Plan Act dollars could help.

“Throughout town, she’s 100% committed to helping build the facility,” said Poe. “And from the start, I don’t think the city or the county preferred to fund the operations. These statewide facilities are funded from the state budget. We’re trying to find an operational plan or a source of funding to put it in place and make it work.

Avoid jail and crowded emergency rooms

The central reception facility would be a place where law enforcement could drop off people with mental health crises instead of putting them in jail, and this could reduce the number of emergency room visits, officials said. county.

Local hospitals have been contacted for financial help, as is the case with other treatment facilities statewide, but they have declined so far, officials said.

“Law enforcement loves it because it’s literally a one or two minute handover, as opposed to when you take someone to jail you’re out on the street for an hour or two.” , said Poe. “So (an officer) can take someone over there, know they’re in a safe place, and just go back to patrol.” “

But Poe said the central reception facility would not only benefit law enforcement.

“Family members can bring people there. Individuals can get there, ”he said. “We see a lot of it. Parents can bring their children there. We see a lot of it in other centers (in the state).

A regional approach

There are nine other central reception facilities in the state.

Stuart Wegener, criminal justice liaison for Alachua County, said on Friday the hope was that the state would be more inclined to fund the claim of the ongoing operational costs of the Gainesville facility, as it would serve outlying counties with limited health facilities and a low income population, such as the host facility of Apalachicola.

“The counties this (facility) would serve are not just Alachua, but Levy, Bradford, Putnam,” he said. “To a lesser extent, there would be some involvement with Dixie and Union. This will serve both children and adults. “

Wegener said there is a good financial case for the state to fund the running costs of these establishments, because in the past fiscal year the nine establishments saved the state $ 51 million. in health care and other costs.

Donald Savoie, CEO of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, said on Friday that the state in 2016 allocated funds for operational costs at nine central reception facilities. He said those costs continue to be funded by the state and cover around 26 counties in total.

“The challenge is that there is no additional funding proposed by the legislature, even though it really is a better model of care,” he said. “There is probably no additional legislative funding from the state at this time, although this is a proven model where there are cost savings through a coordinated reception facility in the event of behavioral health crisis. “

Savoie said the central facility is what the patient needs.

“This is better, coordinated care for the people who need us,” he said.

After seeing support for the project at the joint county commission and city commission meeting on Monday, he said he was comfortable with the architectural plans being drawn up.

“Last week’s meeting kind of reinforced everyone’s commitment to do this for the good of the community,” he said. “We’re going to go ahead and get bids for the construction, start this process, and work on some kind of sustainable operating costs.”


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