Back when St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain was a cop in Abita Springs and Covington and he came across somebody having a mental health crisis, he would take the person to Southeast Louisiana Hospital east of Mandeville. These days, that person would go to the jail Strain runs.
Now, parish leaders, led by President Pat Brister, are trying to revive the hospital as a “one-stop shop” for those with mental health issues.
In March, the parish completed the $15.4 million purchase of the 293-acre property, and officials are moving forward with several plans for the site, including extending a road, adding land to the parish’s wetlands mitigation bank and selling 100 acres to Pelican Park.
But the focus is on developing the crisis center dubbed “Safe Haven,” Brister said Tuesday.
Such a center would be an alternative to what is now the largest provider of mental health services in the parish: the jail.
“We need a crisis component immediately,” Strain said. “Every day my deputies deal with someone having a mental crisis.”
The crisis center would go in the 62,000-square-foot “quad” complex at the southeast corner of the hospital campus, Brister said. Mental and behavioral health professionals would be on hand to evaluate people brought in, she said.
Other agencies already occupy buildings on other parts of the campus.
Northlake Behavioral Health System operates a 90-bed adult treatment facility, according to Richard Kramer, CEO of the hospital. That hospital regularly runs at capacity: On Monday night, 89 of the 90 beds in the adult facility were occupied, as were 36 of the 40 beds for adolescents.
Meridian Behavioral Health System, which operates Northlake, is looking to expand its services at the site, CEO Wes Mason said.
NAMI St. Tammany also has facilities there, as does the St. Tammany Parish School Board.
The plans for the new crisis center are ambitious, and there is no time frame for them to be completed. The parish plans to hire a consultant by the first quarter of next year to develop a master plan for the site, according to spokesman Ronnie Simpson.
The site could become a model for other parts of the state, according to U.S. Sen. and gubernatorial hopeful David Vitter, who got a tour of the facility Tuesday.
“This is a model that hopefully we can consider replicating around the state,” Vitter said.
Other plans for the 293-acre site — including extending Pelican Way, which will be renamed Safe Haven Boulevard, as part of a bypass road that will connect U.S. 190 and La. 1088; selling 100 acres to Pelican Park; and putting some land in the parish’s wetlands mitigation bank — are already well underway, Brister said.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.