Armory to serve as interim mental health center

Published 6:11 pm Thursday, December 22, 2022

By Haley Mitchell Godwin
Mental Health Commissioner for the State of Alabama, Kim Boswell, addressed members of the community Dec. 2 from within the newly-renovated retired National Guard armory regarding Alabama’s newest mental health crisis diversion center scheduled to be built in Brantley.

The armory will be used for office space during the construction phase and will house the crisis diversion center until construction of the permanent facility is complete.

“I am excited to be here and I am excited to support South Central Mental Health,” Boswell said.
Boswell said the people at South Central Mental Health are doing good work.

“We have worked with them for a long time,” she said. “I am excited to be here and support them. I pay attention to those that do God’s work. At the end of the day, ultimately this is the Lord’s work we are doing. We serve and we are doing that because we believe it is what we are on this earth to do.”

According to Boswell, crisis centers are meant to provide short-term, emergency care for people in a mental health crisis, keeping them out of jails and emergency rooms.

Certified community behavioral health clinics (CCBHCs), such as the one coming to Brantley, are health centers designed to provide all levels of mental health care, including some primary care services, in an effort to provide better health outcomes for people with mental illnesses.

“We are really trying to keep people who are having a mental health issue out of jails and out of emergency departments, where they often get boarded,” Boswell said. “One of the most effective ways to do that is to have services available when they are in crisis.

“It could be as simple as they need a good quality screening and assessment. Oftentimes, we don’t know if someone is picked up by law enforcement or winds up in the ER if what they are seeing is a mental health issue or a substance use issue. One of the most effective steps in that process is to get a good screening so that you know actually what you need to address.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about two in five people that are incarcerated are dealing with mental illness.

A mobile crisis team is also in the works. The team would work closely with local law enforcement and respond to calls as needed.

“We are standing at the ready,” Crenshaw County Sheriff Terry Mears said when asked about a timeline to implement the mobile unit.”

Tommy Wright with South Central Mental Health said the first phase will be hiring staffing. Until then, the urgent care center in Andalusia will serve as the mobile crisis team.

“Phase one- hiring director and after-hours telephone folks. We will try to get this online first and will start advertising those positions next week,” Wright said. “The second and third phases will come online probably in a year or so.”

Wright said the goal for the Brantley facility will be a ‘no wrong door project.’

“People can come in an emergency for any reason,” he said. “There is an outpatient area, a 24-hour section where folks can stay up to 23 hours, and there will be another unit with 16 beds for up to five days. And then there will be a support wing to the crisis diversion center that will have a mobile crisis team and some other folks. Dr. Chili will provide psychiatric support at the center. We have tentatively worked out a deal with Dr Chili for psychiatric coverage. This will be put in place incrementally hopefully over the next two years. Brantley has offered some property. Hopefully as we have complied our USDA application and it is getting approved.”

Once approval is received from the USDA, the project will be bid out.
Wright said he is looking for bids to start in the summer and construction to start in the fall of 2023.
It will take approximately a year to complete the new facility.