New mental health 'living room' opens in Spartanburg
Herald-Journal - 9/6/2018
Sept. 06--Filling a long-needed gap in mental health needs, a peer-support "living room" has opened in the former Access Health facility on Serpentine Drive.
"Our goal is to prevent a crisis," said Roger Williams, director of the Spartanburg Mental Health Center, which is operating the facility. "Our goal is to provide a safe, calming and supportive environment."
Previously, the crowded hospital emergency department is where many mental health patients ended up -- even though they may not have had an emergency, he said.
Now patients can drop in at the clinician-staffed living room and receive peer support before a crisis potentially arises, he said. It's called a living room because it was designed with a patient's comfort in mind, an informal setting where he or she could receive support.
The living room has been named the Ray C. Eubanks Jr. Support Center, in honor of the retired probate judge who founded the former detox center in Spartanburg that closed eight years ago.
It will be open 1 to 9 p.m. weekdays, and a grand opening is set for 1 p.m.Oct. 4.
Williams said it is open at no charge to everyone in Spartanburg, Union and Cherokee counties. No appointment is necessary.
The project is a result of years of work by the Mental Health Center and the Spartanburg Area Behavioral Health Task Force, which was formed in 2013 by the United Way of the Piedmont. Helping to fund the center are the United Way, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System and Mental Health America of Spartanburg.
The task force originally wanted to open a 24/crisis stabilization unit, but the scope was deemed too large for Spartanburg, according to task force co-chairman Tom Barnet. Charleston-Dorchester's Tri-County Stabilization Center is the only 24/7 mental health crisis unit operating in the state.
So the Spartanburg task force focused on a less-expensive, scaled-back option. After visiting a living room model in Asheville, N.C., the C3356 Comprehensive Care Center, the group decided to go with the living room option for Spartanburg.
The living room offers group support in a home-like environment with a kitchen, couch, chairs, dining table, spaces for talking, listening to music or using a computer.
One of the rooms has been set aside for use by Mental Health America to operate a reassurance line, in which a volunteer follows up with a phone call to a patient or visitor just to say hello or remind them of an appointment.
There is also a group meeting room, Williams said.
"Our goal is to not be an emergency room," Williams said. "There's no harsh lights or beeping machines."
When Access Health moved out of its Serpentine Drive location to North Church Street, that facility became available last year. Williams said it has been remodeled and freshly furnished.
It is near Spartanburg Medical Center, so if a patient does face a crisis the emergency room will be nearby, Williams said.
"This is for those who don't need acute (emergency room) care, who just need a safe place that understands," he said.
The staff consists of four trained peer counselors and two mental health clinicians, he said.
He said the counselors have already been through recovery and are better equipped personally to understand what someone is going through.
Barnet, who leads the Behavioral Health Task Force along with Heather Witt, said the peer-support living room achieves one of the group's "upstream goals" to address needs before a situation turns into a crisis that requires "downstream" response by police or medical providers.
"It is a site that offers an individual a middle alternative to either an ER visit or an unscheduled appointment with the local Department of Mental Health," Barnet said. "While it is not a 'crisis stabilization unit,' it has an equally valuable piece of Spartanburg's behavioral health continuum."
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