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Orange County crisis diversion facility planning funded by BOCC

The Chapel Hill Courthouse stands at the corner of E Franklin St and Henderson St on Friday, Mar. 19, 2021.

The Orange County Criminal Justice Resource Department is currently advancing the 2019 plans to create a crisis diversion facility that will serve individuals in Orange County experiencing a behavioral or mental health crisis after funding was approved by the Orange County Board of County Commissioners.

The BOCC formed a subcommittee in 2019 to create plans and make recommendations for the facility. For the new fiscal year, the BOCC added $2 million to the budget for the planning of the facility.

The subcommittee also hired an architect to begin searching for land to house the facility. 

Jamezetta Bedford, the chair of the BOCC, said the subcommittee is currently searching for a property that is near a hospital or emergency room.

Currently, if someone in Orange County places a 911 call for a mental health crisis, either an ambulance or law enforcement officer is dispatched. Travis Myren, the deputy county manager, said the goal of this facility is to provide an alternative option.

“There can be a therapeutic approach to addressing the immediate crisis that someone is suffering, and then creating a discharge plan,” Myren said. 

Bedford said the subcommittee has done virtual tours of similar urgent care and diversion facilities in Asheville and Durham.

The BOCC estimates an up-front cost of $20 million to build the facility. Bedford said she thinks the county budget definitely has room for the initial construction, but maintaining the day-to-day costs might be too expensive.

“The concern for commissioners is, will we have the funding to actually operate it,” she said. 

The idea for the crisis diversion facility in Orange County originally came from a Sequential Intercept Mapping conference in April 2019. SIM is a process used by mental health professionals to detail how individuals with mental and substance use disorders come into contact with and move through the criminal justice system, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Barbara-Ann Bybel, the director of psychiatry services for UNC Health, said during the conference the County found a large gap in services available to people with mental illnesses that this facility may be able to fill.

“Right now, if anyone's in crisis, it's like pretty much either you get no help and/or people end up in jails or in [emergency departments], and this is not unique to Orange County whatsoever," she said. "This is definitely a national crisis."

She also said there's been a significant increase in demand for mental health treatment, especially among young adults. This makes the facility, and other mental health resources, especially needed in Chapel Hill. 

 “A lot of this is how do we prevent a crisis, or how do we intervene early on so that someone doesn't actually need a hospitalization,” she said. 

Now, Orange County is focusing on planning the construction of the facility. 

Bedford said the County will ideally have more specific construction and budget plans by the end of this year. 

“We did an initial sort of feasibility and cost estimate analysis that was completed a couple months ago,” Myren said. "So that's where we discern the total costs, estimated cost of construction. The next phase will be engaging with an architect to actually get into facility design.”


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