If a team tasked with crafting plans for a mental health crisis center in Baton Rouge gets its way, anyone would be able to go to the Recovery and Empowerment Center at any time, day or night, for help during a behavioral crisis.
Mattresses would be packed into a room where inebriated folks could sleep off a wicked buzz or an accompanying hangover. Counselors, social workers and a psychiatrist would be on hand to help people suffering from psychotic episodes.
Critically, the REC, previously referred to by local leaders as a restoration center, would feature a back door where law enforcement officers could drop off people clearly needing mental health counseling more than time behind bars. And, ideally, a team of “care liaisons or case managers” would follow up with every person who inevitably leaves the REC, helping the person transition into a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
These recommendations and others were among the ideas presented Monday afternoon to a room packed with more than 100 people inside the Main Library at Goodwood. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation organized the event as part of the nonprofit’s ongoing campaign to raise awareness about the need to “decriminalize” mental illness in the capital city area, where psychotic breakdowns often result in a trip to the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison rather than a treatment center.
Dr. Jan Kasofsky, executive director of the Capital Area Human Services District and the woman tapped by BRAF to lead the committee that drafted plans for the REC, outlined the committee’s recommendations to those in attendance. Afterward, various leaders of the mental health community helped her field questions from concerned audience members.
Who will pay for the REC? Where will it go? Who will run it?
“If there’s a political will ... the money is there for sure,” Kasofsky said. “It’s what are you going to unfund.”
Earlier this year, the Metro Council rejected a $335 million tax proposal geared at public safety projects that would have included about $16 million for the mental health center. While council members embraced the concept, they said it wasn’t clear that all of the proposed projects were needed, especially if they required new taxes.
The proposal by the committee outlined six key offerings of the REC: a triage and assessment division, a peer-run drop-in unit, a sobering beds room, a medical detox, a medical stabilization unit and a case manager section.
At the triage and assessment unit, licensed mental health professionals and substance abuse counselors would screen patients to find out what they need and whether the REC was the right place for them. Certified peer specialists — often recovering addicts or people with stabilized mental illnesses — would meet with incoming patients in a waiting area to help calm them down.
The sobering beds would be mattresses where people could rest in a safe environment for no more than 23 hours to sleep off inebriation. The detox unit would offer medical detoxification to drug addicts.
Finally, the center’s medical stabilization services would replace the Mental Health Emergency Room Extension, a function of the Earl K. Long Medical Center, which closed in 2013. Patients could be stabilized for up to 72 hours, and a psychiatrist would be on-hand to help them.
The Rev. Raymond A. Jetson, who also helped moderate the discussion, said the conversation requires input from the “people who control the purse strings.”
“At some point or another, this will cost something,” Jetson said. “We don’t know today what that cost is.”
But first, Jetson said, the community needs to figure out what it wants, what it needs and what it’s willing to pay for.
“As a community, Baton Rouge needs to get behind this,” said Pam Shaver, a business and health consultant who attended the meeting. “This is not just on the government; this is on the private community as well.”
Shaver said she’s a supporter of public-private partnerships, and such a fusion might be just what the REC needs to become reality.
“Somebody needs to step up,” said Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr., who attended the meeting along with East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Warden Dennis Grimes and a host of other law enforcement officials.
Tonja Myles, the Parish Prison’s only peer support specialist, said it’s important to make the mental health treatment network easier to navigate.
“We just need to make sure that we get behind this as a community,” Myles said.
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter @_BenWallace.