One of three new mental health crisis centers in the state, funded with an $18 million legislative allocation last year, opened in Mobile May 3. AltaPoint’s Behavioral Health Crisis Center is now housed in the Fred Delchamps Building at 2401 Gordon Smith Drive, off Stanton Road behind University Hospital.
“It’s an urgent care center for people with mental health problems, or a mental health and co-occurring substance use problems,” said AltaPointe CEO Tuerk Schlesinger. “But it’s also for sheriff’s deputies, police officers and emergency departments at hospitals to have a place to divert patients that really don’t need to be either in jail or in a hospital.”
More specifically, the 15-bed facility offers an option for individuals “who are clearly in a mental health crisis for brief, rapid stabilization by voluntary admission to a 23-hour temporary observation center.” Once admitted, patients will be seen by an AltaPointe psychiatrist and if eligible, offered medication. There is also an area where patients are allowed to shower, change clothes and receive food.
Although the center is voluntary and AltaPointe cannot keep someone who is not willing to stay, Schlesinger said families and individuals can walk in 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and patients may stay for up to 23 hours.
“The incentive is they know they will only be here for a few hours,” he said. “If you take them to a hospital [involuntarily], they could be there for days or weeks, or if they go to jail, they’ll be locked up.”
Dr. Cindy Gibson, the center’s director, said walk-in patients will be evaluated by peers with “lived experience” with mental health or substance abuse.
“From that point, we do a triage to determine what’s going on,” she said. “There is a nursing assessment, a psychiatric assessment, and trying to get the individual to agree to start medication, if that’s what’s needed, or just see if they need to get away from whatever is happening at home.”
Gibson said those with mental health issues often self-report to emergency rooms or are arrested by law enforcement. The crisis center offers a rapid alternative.
“Once we’ve determined that they need to be admitted, we take them down into the unit where they can get a shower, change into clean clothes, get a hot meal, and then we just really start planning for discharge from the minute they sit down,” Gibson said. “Even if they are struggling with homelessness or finances or relationships or employment, we work on all those things in a brief period of time. So it’s really intense for that 23-hour period.”
If the patient is stabilized, AltaPointe schedules follow-up appointments and orders their discharge. If not, they can be transferred to one of AltaPointe’s two hospitals in the area: BayPointe in Mobile or EastPointe in Daphne.
“If someone is a danger to themselves or others, we do have the ability to do an involuntary hold, but they can’t stay here on an involuntary hold, and it has to be approved by probate court,” Gibson said.
Although Gov. Kay Ivey canceled her appearance at the center’s grand opening Monday because of weather, Schlesinger said the center fills a gap in the mental health treatment continuum and he was grateful for the support of lawmakers.
“For years and years, mental health has not been getting any new funding through the Legislature, but lately, COVID and a whole lot of other things are showing that mental health is a key part of medical treatment,” he said. “If you don’t take care of the mind, you are not going to be able to take care of the body. But in this case, the Legislature heard a recommendation from the commissioner of mental health, Kim Boswell, to put in three crisis centers across our state. So we have sustainable funding over the future.”
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