Charlotte Claiborne.jpg

Charlotte Claiborne executive director of the The Bridge Center for Hope,

The Bridge Center for Hope, East Baton Rouge Parish's forthcoming psychiatric stabilization and detox center, has narrowed its list of potential locations down to three sites — though its leaders remain tight-lipped on details. 

The 30-bed facility, set to open in the spring, is expected to treat up to 5,000 residents in crisis annually and will serve as an alternative to an emergency room or the parish prison. It will be funded through a 1.5-mill property tax voters approved in December 2018 that's projected to raise around $6 million annually.

A "mill" is one dollar of tax for every $1,000 in taxable property value. 

The Bridge Center's executive director, Charlotte Claiborne, said architects are on the ground evaluating the final three sites for potential renovation costs. She declined to specify the locations up for consideration. 

“We’re being very cautious about the place we choose," Claiborne said, adding that a site will be made public once it receives the go-ahead from the center's board of directors. "The whole goal is to put it in a location where everyone can access it."

The Bridge Center is currently waiting to receive their first round of taxpayer funds. That's expected by the end of January or beginning of February.

At the moment, the nonprofit, set-up by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, does not have the resources to redesign whatever location chosen.

The facility, the first of its kind in Louisiana, will be operated by RI International, a nonprofit specializing in mental health and substance abuse services that operates similar centers in California, Delaware and North Carolina. 

The Bridge Center's board lauded the company in August for its commitment to a "Crisis Now" model of treatment, which varies from the more traditional model of medicating patients in a hospital-like setting. The Arizona-based firm beat out a joint bid from Our Lady of the Lake and Baton Rouge General to secure the five-year, $30 million contract.

The "Crisis Now" model builds its treatment on a number of guidelines: viewing patients' crises as opportunities for growth, using 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.

Once built, the Bridge Center will resemble a "home-like environment," with warm colors, couches, murals and an open floor plan, said Amy Pugsley, an executive at RI International, who spoke at a meeting with local healthcare professional Wednesday. 

The facility will have a "no wrong door" policy, Pugsley added, which means anyone 18 and older will be admitted. The goal is to relieve overcrowding at emergency rooms and the local jail — both of which have become dumping grounds for mental health patients. The effort has garnered support from the district attorney, police chief and coroner, all of whom sit on the Bridge Center board, as does the sheriff's jail warden.

The Bridge Center will also include a designated entrance for police to quickly drop-off people experiencing a behavioral health crisis. That includes everything from mental health episodes and suicidal behavior to struggles with substance abuse and addiction.  

It takes an average of 1 minute and 57 seconds for law enforcement to drop someone off at RI Intentional facilities, said Paul Galdys, another executive at the nonprofit. That will allow police to spend less time shuttling patients to hospitals and jails and more time focusing on public safety. 

For context, during the first ten months of 2019, BRPD received 2,655 mental health calls and the parish prison treated 3,151 mental health patients, nearly 2,500 of whom had already reported mental health issues prior to being arrested, according to Claiborne. 

The facility will act as a short-term stop for people experiencing an acute crisis. Seventy percent of patients that arrive in facilities like the Bridge Center can be stabilized in, at most, 23 hours with counseling and medical care, Pugsley said. The other 30% typically need a three to five day psychiatric stay. 

If needed, patients will be referred to long-term care, but the goal is to stabilize as many people within this five day period as possible so they can "get back to the community where they live and work and play," Pugsley said. 

The Bridge Center will also house a mobile outreach team comprised of both a clinician — like a nurse or social worker — and a peer with personal experience with a crisis tasked with proactively stabilizing people in the community.

Pugsley said they are currently in discussions with law enforcement on whether they should be integrated into the parish's 911 system or set up their own hotline. 

Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater