A potential crisis diversion center in Orange County reached one of its first major milestones on August 12, as architectural firms and crisis service providers submitted applications for their roles in the project.
The diversion center would provide options other than incarceration or hospitalization for people with behavioral or mental health issues. It will likely begin construction within the next two years, according to Caitlin Fenhagen, director of criminal justice resources for Orange County.
The Crisis/Diversion Facilities Subcommittee of the Orange County Behavioral Health Task Force is leading efforts to expand the center. This subcommittee includes representatives from the Orange County Board of Commissioners, Chapel Hill Police Department Crisis Unit, Orange County EMS, and UNC Health Care, among others. .
While the 24-hour center would primarily serve patients after interactions with law enforcement or emergency medical services, walk-in visits would also be accepted.
The center will provide treatment and social service networks, as well as criminal justice and medical services. The Crisis/Diversion Facilities Subcommittee used similar facilities in Buncombe and Wake Counties as a benchmark to determine best practices and treatment.
Consultants and partners for the installation will be selected in the coming months, and a location for the building should be chosen by December. The final design will be completed early next year, and Fenhagen said the facility could be operational in three years – although this is a tentative schedule.
“The facility will be deliberately designed to be very welcoming and very integrated into the landscape, wherever the site is,” said Deputy County Executive Travis Myren.
In April 2019, more than 30 Orange County stakeholders came together to assess gaps in the Orange County criminal justice system. One of the issues discussed was the lack of a no-denial service for law enforcement to turn away those who may not be better served by incarceration or an emergency room.
The Settlement Sub-Committee was formed later in 2019 to develop a center that would address the gaps identified by stakeholders.
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said the facility would be a big help for people in need as no one would be denied help.
“This facility, where it exists, I think is the perfect complement to all kinds of really smart programs that have been in place both in Chapel Hill and in our county for a long time,” Blue said. “But we weren’t able to fully realize these philosophies due to the lack of such a facility.”
According to a subcommittee presentation, approximately 400 cases could be redirected to the center each month, which would reduce emergency room crowding and costs and help provide more appropriate services to patients outside of the justice system. criminal.
Fenhagen said the diversion center could help reduce the number of people being taken to detention centers due to a lack of funding and other options.
In addition to providing services within the facility, she said staff will also connect patients with other resources in the area. The Street Outreach and Harm Reduction and Deflection Program, one such resource, helps homeless people find housing and support.
The CHPD Crisis Unit, an organization of social workers who respond to calls with law enforcement officers, recently hired its first Peer Support Specialist – a licensed professional with extensive healthcare experience. behavioral.
Fenhagen said the diversion center would also be staffed with these peer support specialists, who may be able to help address the stigma surrounding behavioral health.
“Behavioral health issues don’t just affect people involved in the criminal justice system,” she said. “It affects everyone, regardless of your social status, your age. It’s just a constant struggle to educate everyone that this stigma shouldn’t exist.”
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