Tuscaloosa’s New Mental Health Crisis Center Nears Grand Opening
Tuscaloosa's new crisis center for people in urgent need of mental health care is just a week away from accepting patients to a still-growing facility with a sharp focus on privacy, dignity and respect.
The Hope Pointe Behavioral Health Crisis Care will host a ribbon-cutting next week at their home in the heart of Tuscaloosa at 1401 Greensboro Avenue
As the Thread previously reported, Governor Kay Ivey announced last year that the state would invest $7 million to build its fifth crisis center here in Tuscaloosa, complementing other facilities in Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile. A sixth is planned for Dothan.
Although constructed and staffed with funding from the state, the new crisis center will be operated by Tuscaloosa's nonprofit Indian Rivers Behavioral Health.
Their CEO Karen Jones joined Hope Pointe's director Jaime Garza to give the Thread and other local media a first look at the new space ahead of the ribbon-cutting next Tuesday, which will be followed by an afternoon open house and a first day open Wednesday.
"I've had a 25-year career in this field," Jones said. "This is the biggest thing that has happened for mental health in West Alabama in those 25 years."
The idea behind the clinic is to create a place specifically designed to alleviate pressure building in the emergency room at DCH Regional Medical Center and in the Tuscaloosa County Jail.
When people experience mental health crises in west Alabama, they overwhelming end up in one of those two places, Garza said. When Hope Pointe opens, they will hope to catch as many people as they can before they are admitted or booked, stabilize them at the crisis center and get them on course for the next step.
"This is for anyone experiencing a mental health issue whether they're suicidal or they have a lot of anxiety and panic attacks," Jones said. "We treat all walks of life already in our outpatient services so anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can come in and get the help they need and we will link them with any additional services they need for the long term."
Up to 16 people will be able to stay in medical chairs at Hope Pointe for up to 24 hours, and the first phase of the facility also features four beds for longer observation.
The core mission is not long-term treatment, but just to stabilize people who feel they are in crisis for long enough to connect them with other resources, whether that means rehabilitation, psychiatric help, therapy, housing or a combination of the above.
"What a crisis center does is to basically stabilize the crisis and buy some time for us to create a plan that may incorporate say a rehabilitation service, but that's not what we are here," Garza said. "We're here to calm the situation, stabilize."
Garza also said Hope Point will be committed to a no-wrong-door policy, that even people who do not necessarily qualify for admission there will be made to feel welcome and loved while the next course of action is decided.
There is a place to take a shower in private, laundry machines and a team of almost four dozen employees, and Garza said many of the masters-level therapists at Hope Point have their own lived experiences with mental illness and can directly relate to those who seek help there.
The crisis center is also committed to meeting people where they are - there is even space allowed outdoors to smoke cigarettes, which may be an unpopular choice in 2023, but Garza and Jones hope it's one sign of many that Hope Pointe is different, and people in crisis should not be afraid of or opposed to getting help there.
From the tobacco-friendly policies to the center's prominent location in the middle of Tuscaloosa the layout and decoration of each room, everything at Hope Pointe is designed to be a calming place that people are familiar and comfortable with to consider in times of crisis. No one can be admitted there against their will, Garza said, so people in crisis or their families have to know about the crisis center and feel good enough about it to seek help there.
There are also long-term plans to grow and expand - phase two of the project will add a neighboring building to the hold and increase the number of beds, chairs and more for more people experiencing crises.
Jones said like so many critical community services in West Alabama, Hope Pointe could already use additional funding because the state's $7 million had to be spread thin to cover so many costs.
Another $2 million could seriously accelerate the expansion of Hope Pointe, but Jones and Garza will have to find funding partners willing to chip in at levels that high.
Hope Pointe will host its ribbon cutting with Governor Ivey and many other dignataries next Tuesday morning, October 17th, with a public open house that afternoon from 2 p.m. until 5.
Patients will be admitted starting Wednesday morning.
For more from Hope Pointe as it develops, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.
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Gallery Credit: (Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)