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24/7 mental health crisis center in Spartanburg could open by fall

Herald-Journal - 3/5/2017

March 05--A 24/7 mental health crisis center for adults should open in Spartanburg by September, organizers said Thursday.

Tom Barnet and Heather Witt, co-chairs of the Spartanburg Behavioral Health Task Force, said the center will start with a $1.1 million annual budget, $250,000 of which will come from the S.C. Department of Mental Health.

"We're hoping for Sept. 1, if not sooner," Barnet said. "We believe the payback will be immediate."

A location has not yet been chosen. Barnet said the task force is looking to lease from 3,500 to 5,000 square feet of space.

The state Department of Mental Health will manage the operation with oversight from the task force, Witt said.

The center will be staffed by 13 health care professionals, including a psychiatrist, nurses and part-time aides, Witt said.

There will be a kitchen, offices and a meeting area that resembles a living room where formal and informal meetings can be held.

The crisis center is the latest project of the nearly 5-year-old task force, which was created to help an estimated 72,000 people in the Spartanburg area who need mental health services but have difficulty accessing services.

Many in need of help are poor, homeless and without family or insurance, mental health professionals said. That often leads to frequent hospital emergency room visits or jail, where some get caught in a revolving-door cycle.

The crisis center will provide short-term help for those who have been diagnosed with a behavioral health condition and voluntarily come for services, Barnet said.

It will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and serve residents in Spartanburg, Union and Cherokee counties, Witt said.

It will open with eight inpatient beds, with room to expand to 16 beds, Witt said.

A key part of the plan will be outpatient help -- connecting patients with the doctors or services they need, and then following up with them to make sure they are doing better.

Last month, the task force received a $90,000 grant from BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation for its reassurance line, which provides 24/7 phone support from volunteers, trained staff and peer specialists.

The center also will seek to reduce behavioral health visits to the emergency department at Spartanburg Medical Center, which numbered 4,600 in 2015, Witt said. Some of those visits result in several days at the hospital.

The hospital has agreed to transfer those patients who the crisis center can help, she said.

The center will see adults 18 and older who may be diagnosed with such disorders as anxiety, nondependent drug use, certain neurosis and personality disorders, Witt said.

"It's for someone with a diagnosis who is not managing their illness," Witt said. "The goal is not to replace any current service they're receiving, but to ensure the connections and layer any additional support services on top of that."

"It's not an umbrella for every mental condition," Barnet added.

Barnet said the center will not be able to accept transfers from the detention center.

While no detoxification component will be available, Witt said the Forrester Center in Spartanburg has agreed to help provide detox services.

Witt and Barnet credited the state for recognizing that mental health issues cut across all facets of society and that more resources are needed.

Last November, the state Department of Mental Health announced it had budgeted $1 million for the creation of crisis stabilization units. Spartanburg and Charleston-Dorchester were each earmarked $250,000 in recurring funds. The rest of the funds are set aside for future units elsewhere in the state, including in Greenville and Anderson, said Mark Binkley, spokesman for the department.

Charleston-Dorchester Mental Health Center's Tri-county Crisis Stabilization Center -- which opened in 1999 and closed in 2009 -- is on track to reopen later this month, he said.

Binkley applauded the work of Spartanburg's task force, saying its new crisis center will become the second one in the state, he said

"We're well aware and very supportive of Spartanburg, not just because of the crisis stabilization unit, but because of other things they've done to improve resources for mental health and substance abuse," Binkley said.

In the meantime, Barret said the task force is making great strides in securing enough private donations and grants to make the $1.1 million budget.

Barret and Witt said a task force group last month visited the Charleston-Dorchester Center and one in Asheville, N.C., which has been open for over a year.

"For the model we developed, we took the best of each place we visited," she said.

For example, Asheville's peer support living room area to help those in recovery will be a part of Spartanburg's center, she said.

Follow Bob Montgomery on Twitter@bmontgomeryshj


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