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Bridge Center board chair Kathy Kliebert speaks during an Aug. 8, 2018 meeting of the Metro Council. 

An international company specializing in mental health and substance abuse services was chosen Monday to operate the Bridge Center for Hope – the psychiatric crisis and detox facility set to open early next year in East Baton Rouge Parish.

The Bridge Center’s Board of Directors picked Recovery International during a special meeting Monday, a decision only one member of the board objected to. That board member is District Attorney Hillar Moore, who expressed support for Our Lady of the Lake and Baton Rouge General, which in a joint effort were also vying for the 5-year, $30 million contract.

In a joint statement from OLOL President and CEO Scott Wester and Baton Rouge General CEO Edgardo Tenreiro, the two local medical systems said they intend to support the Bridge Center for Hope in whatever way they can despite the board’s decision.

“While we are not familiar with Recovery International’s work, we are confident that the Bridge Center board will ensure stewardship of our taxpayer dollars and that positive results will be delivered for our community,” the statement read.

Moore said he was impressed with OLOL and BR General because they were prepared to seek grant funding to help supplement the costs to run and maintain the facility, something the proposal from Recovery International lacked. He also pointed out the existing relationships OLOL and BR General already have within the community and law enforcement.

But the board overwhelming lauded Recovery International for meeting the most important aspect of the request for proposals, which is implementing the Crisis Now treatment model at the facility.

The Crisis Now model builds its treatment on a number of guidelines: viewing patient crises as opportunities for growth in comfortable settings where people feel less isolated; utilizing peer support specialists to counsel patients; tailoring treatment based on the type of trauma the patient is suffering; adopting suicide prevention as a core responsibility; and implementing crisis response partnerships with law enforcement.

OLOL and Baton Rouge General’s proposal touted a functional treatment model that involves medicating in a more traditional hospital-like setting – something both systems already do but lack the more positive results board members have seen compared to the Crisis Now method.

Recovery International, which operates facilities in California, Delaware, North Carolina and New Zealand, received a total score of 91.5 out of 100 from the committee that evaluated the two offers. OLOL/BR General's total score was 58.33.

The Recovering International proposal “embodied what we were looking for, in terms of crisis stabilization,” board Chair Kathy Kliebert said. “To have peer support that has been through what you’ve been through, and to know they are there for you and can help connect you to the resources you need and help you stay engaged, that’s the most important thing about mental health and substance abuse (treatment)."

Angéla Lorio, a resident and peer recovery support specialist who urged the board to pick Recovery International over OLOL, said the functional treatment model is often off-putting to patients on the brink of a severe crisis.

“It’s like going into a psych unit where there are those double doors,” she said. “If I’m on the edge, I don’t want to walk in and not know if those the double doors (are) past the point of no return. The board made a wonderful decision stepping out of a comfort zone of choosing a model that has already been proven and saves lives.

“There is a lot of power in someone looking you in the eye and saying I’ve been there and not, ‘Oh, let me tell you what you need to do or let me recommend this treatment or medication’,” Lorio added.

Services previously reported for the facility include a mobile assessment team that can respond to law enforcement 24/7 to provide in-person evaluations, a crisis assessment center to treat patients on a voluntary or involuntary basis, sobering beds, a detox program and a care management team that can provide direct services within the community.

The money to operate the mental health care facility will come from a 1.5-mill property tax that voters approved in December. The tax is estimated to generate $6 million a year.

The Bridge Center’s board hopes to start hiring staff for the facility in January, when it’ll start receiving its revenue from the dedicated tax. The facility could open in March 2020, but Kliebert said that will depend on how fast Recovery International came move in and obtain all the necessary licensing the facility will need to operate.

Any contract with Recovery International will need Metro Council approval.

Despite objections, Metro Council approves giving Bridge Center contract for mental health center

Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com