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Jefferson County (AL) Sheriff: New Mental Health Care Center a ‘Game Changer’

Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway said the crisis center is a "game changer." (PROVIDED PHOTO)

The Birmingham Times

State and local leaders on Tuesday cut the ribbon at the Craig Crisis Care Center in Birmingham which will offer assistance for mental health and substance use disorders.

The center will be open 24/7 year-round and features 32 temporary observation beds and 16 extended observation beds. According to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, 240 people are taken to jails in the County every month for mental illness or substance use.

“This is a game-changer for all law enforcement,” said Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway, who added the center will be critical in helping officers save resources and get back to fighting crime.

Pettway said his deputies are going through training to “identify someone going through a crisis, how to de-escalate the situation and get them to a place like the crisis care center to get them the help they need.”

Prior to the crisis center, police who responded to calls would either take those experiencing an emergency to the ER or the jail. Now they will take them to the crisis center.

“[Law enforcement can take mental health patients] to a local hospital emergency department, where they have to wait sometimes eight to 10 hours, they can take the person to jail, or they can leave them in the environment they’re in. None of those are great options. We want to be that great option,” said Jim Crego, executive director of JBS Mental Health Authority.

The Craig Crisis Care Center not only aims to stop jails and emergency rooms from getting filled with people who don’t need to be there but also seeks to get patients the help they need. The center is set to open to the public in the next few weeks.

Commissioner Kimberly Boswell with the Alabama Department of Mental Health said there are three components to the center. Screening and assessment, observation and crisis stabilization. The center will have 32 temporary beds and 16 extended stay beds. Following their stay, they will be connected with community partners to continue their care.

“In Alabama, we are changing the conversation about mental health care,” said Boswell. “We always want to intervene early in the illness so that people can get access to care and get into recovery a lot sooner and live a life of recovery a lot sooner,” said Boswell.

The facility is named after Dr. Richard Craig, a longtime JBS Mental Health Authority executive director.

Serving 20 counties across Central Alabama, the Craig Crisis Care Center is one of six such facilities across the state that make up Alabama’s Crisis System of Care.

“Strengthening Alabama’s mental healthcare access has been a top priority for my administration from the beginning, and I’m proud to celebrate the opening of Alabama’s fourth Crisis Center here in Birmingham,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “Throughout every major region in Alabama, we are working diligently to improve our mental health landscape to ensure we create positive change in the lives of Alabamians who need it most.”

In 2020, Ivey and the Alabama Legislature allocated $18 million to establish three Crisis Centers across the state in Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery, followed by an additional $6 million for Birmingham in 2021. Last year, the Governor announced funding for two additional Crisis Centers in Tuscaloosa and Dothan