The buildings of the old Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville don’t look like much — just a series of low-slung yellow brick structures connected by some covered walkways.
But for St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister and other parish leaders worried about mental health options in the parish, they looked like an opportunity. So once the parish finalized its $15.4 million purchase of the 293-acre former hospital campus in March, they began crafting a plan to reuse some of the rundown facilities.
Brister has been working with other parish officials — including judges, the sheriff and the coroner — as well as mental and behavioral health providers and advocates to develop a plan for using 62,000 square feet of vacant buildings on the hospital’s sprawling complex.
Located at the facility’s southeast corner, the buildings — called the “quad complex” because of their resemblance to a college quadrangle — could become a “one-stop shop” for those needing behavioral health treatment in St. Tammany.
So far, Brister’s idea is drawing an enthusiastic buy-in from other parish agencies.
“I am all on board,” Coroner Charles Preston said.
For years, people who have needed behavioral health treatment — for mental illness, addiction issues or, increasingly, both — have ended up in an emergency room or the parish jail. While both can provide some treatment, the new facility, once completed, could provide a level of care not found at either, Preston said.
The rationale is simple: When you have a heart problem, you go to a cardiologist, and when you have a behavioral health problem, you should see a behavioral health specialist, Preston said.
Brister said she and others have studied a San Antonio facility as a model. Called the Center for Health Care Services, it offers a comprehensive array of mental illness and addiction treatment services, Brister said. The San Antonio center’s website advertises an all-ages crisis line as well as a wide array of treatments for adults, children and veterans.
Such a facility is needed in St. Tammany Parish, where the options are adequate when judged against the rest of the nation, but still far short of what the parish could be offering, Preston said.
One of the first things Preston hopes will open at the site is a crisis intervention facility where patients could go for acute care. From there, they could be moved into short-term or, if needed, long-term care. There already is a behavioral health hospital, Northlake Behavioral Health System, on the campus.
Richard Kramer, the CEO of Northlake, said he would welcome the redevelopment of the quad complex into a place to bring those in acute need of behavioral health treatment.
“The campus is underutilized,” he said. Northlake has not committed to any particular role in the new project, but Kramer said the hospital is interested in participating.
The entire project is in its very early stages. The buildings will require renovation and retrofitting before they can be used, and talks about exactly what the center should do are ongoing.
Creating a campus devoted to treating behavioral health patients also will help plug the gap caused when the state privatized the former Southeast Louisiana Hospital in late 2012.
Brister has long said she wanted to keep the site a place for behavioral health treatment, and she helped spearhead the parish’s eventual purchase of the property.
Some of the 293 acres will be used for other purposes. Pelican Park is in the process of acquiring the use of 100 acres, and some of the land will be used to build a road from the park to La. 1088.
However, the conversion of the quad complex buildings will help the parish consolidate and improve behavioral health services, Brister said.
And Nick Richard, the executive director of the St. Tammany Parish chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said the new facility could make a huge impact.
“We generally see people at the point of crisis,” he said. To have them on site for follow-up, he added, “would be huge.”
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.