New mental health facility to bring 60+ jobs to Brantley

Published 4:20 pm Thursday, August 11, 2022

The town of Brantley has announced that city-owned property, located just north of the school on U.S. Route 331, will be the site of Alabama’s newest mental health crisis diversion center.

The center will be operated by the South Central Alabama Mental Health Center (SCAMHC), and will be open 24/7 to the general public, law enforcement, and emergency management personnel to serve those who may be experiencing a mental health issue. The facility will also serve people in crisis during evacuations.

Tommy Wright, director of SCAMHC, said the crisis diversion center will be an alternative to jail and emergency rooms for people who need urgent treatment for mental illness.

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“Increased mental health services are desperately needed around the state, especially psychiatric crisis services,” he said. “This will be a diversion from hospitals, jails, and emergency rooms. It will be a secure facility with on-site security that has the ability to hold people.”

“There will be three components to the facility,” he said. “The Walk-in area is much like an outpatient facility where people in crisis receive evaluations, get services, and hopefully get some relief. If needed, 23-hour observation is available and there will be an extended care unit where patients may stay up to seven days. The unit will also house support services like case management, a 24/7 helpline crisis telephone line and hopefully, there will be three efficiency apartments for people needing temporary housing.”

The center will be a “no wrong door” facility in which no one will be turned away and will primarily serve Butler, Crenshaw, Covington, Coffee, Conecuh, Escambia, Monroe, and Clarke counties with an annual operating budget of approximately $6 million, initially creating 60-plusjobs. 

The town will provide temporary space in the newly-renovated retired National Guard armory to be used for office space during the construction phase and to house the crisis diversion center until construction is complete.

The facility will be the first rural crisis center in the state and will be funded by the Alabama Department of Mental Health. There are currently six other mental health crisis centers in Alabama. Brantley mayor, Bernie Sullivan, is excited about the progress the center will create. 

“We are so fortunate to have been chosen to be the home of the mental health diversion center,” he said. “I keep pinching myself. We have worked for years to try and draw in companies that will have a positive impact on Brantley’s economy. The center is going to do that and offer much needed help to people. This is going to fill a gap that’s been needed for a while.”

The center will create a wide range of jobs for people possessing varying levels of education.  Some of those jobs include registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and security personnel.

Sullivan said the available workforce is one attribute that helped encourage SCAMHC to choose Brantley.

“Available personnel is so important, and we made what we have to offer here clear in our proposal,” Sullivan said. “We have 122 nurses in the county. 62 of those work out of town. It is my hope that some of those nurses will come back home to work. We have available an up-and-coming workforce that is already being trained while in high school through Crenshaw County’s HOSA program. So, we have the manpower.

Other components of Brantley’s proposal included over 30 statements of support, including letters from Dr. Jack Hawkins, chancellor at Troy University; Chris Sells,  Alabama House of Representatives district 90; many other state and county elected officials, local churches, banks, county agencies, neighboring towns, colleges, and more. 

Several localities presented proposals. Brantley and three other locations made it to the final cut. The SCAMHC board members cast confidential votes and Brantley was selected. Tommy Wright, director of SCAMHC, said Brantley had many appealing aspects, including the town’s proximity to Crenshaw Community Hospital. 

“Being near the hospital and other needed resources is great,” Wright said. “We have worked with David Hughes and Crenshaw Community Hospital regarding acute psychiatric care for many years and these existing relationships will help to support the new facility and make the process of getting things up and running go smoothly. Mayor Sullivan and Dr. Tompkins did a great job with their presentation,” Wright said. 


“This facility will be for the community and South Central Alabama Mental Health Center looks forward to working with the city of Brantley, Crenshaw County and Judge Tate, and with law enforcement agencies, hospitals and other local health care providers to provide psychiatric crisis services to the citizens of this area. This facility will help the Alabama Department of Mental Health  to develop a model crisis diversion center for rural areas as requested by Commissioner Boswell,” Wright continued.


“We also look forward to working with Candace Harden and Southwest Alabama Behavioral Health Care Systems as well as Dr. Shankar Yalamanchili and his psychiatric group to expand this service to the south central and southwest area of Alabama.”


According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Alabama ranks 8th highest for the prevalence of mental illness in the U.S. Local physician, Dr. Charles Thompkins, said that the crisis diversion center is a much needed resource that will build better access to mental health care and will also be a catalyst for growth and increased prosperity for citizens of Brantley, Crenshaw County, and surrounding communities. 


“Crenshaw Community Hospital has worked with SCMH for many years now and success with this partnership has already been demonstrated. I speak on behalf of the hospital when I say that we feel locating the mental health crisis diversion center in Brantley will strengthen this relationship and allow us to continue and broaden these successes.” said Tompkins. 


For many years, Tompkins has had a vision of a facility such as this and said that there is a phenomenal need for mental health services in south Alabama. According to Tompkins, the new facility will go a long way toward addressing these needs. He said that although it may be a couple of years before the center is up and running, news of the center coming to  Brantley has already proved to be a flagship as other new establishments will be kicking off soon. 


“In my heart of hearts, I feel that the groundwork for providing this kind of facility was laid years ago. Many municipalities can say they have a nice location, and can aptly meet brick and mortar needs, but for almost four decades,since the doors to the hospital’s behavioral health department was opened 37 years ago, we have been working to provide care for  those with substance abuse and mental health problems. We have a certain culture in our community where helping others comes naturally and we are already accustomed to providing care similar to what the new center will offer. I am super excited about this monumental endeavor that we have secured in large part due to our ideal location, right there on 331- halfway between Montgomery and Dothan, 30 minutes from I-65, and 30 minutes from highway 231. It is really the perfect location and these kinds of developments are an investment in our future. I am excited about the positivity and opportunities this will create for my children, my grandchildren, and all future generations in Brantley,” Tompkins said.