July 27, 2008

Meeting Mental Health Needs Locally

By Matthew E. Milliken, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.

Jul. 27--DURHAM -- As of Tuesday, Durham County residents will have a clean, well-lighted place to stave off mental health and substance abuse crises.

The state's secretary of health and human services, the head of Duke University Hospitals and other officials are scheduled to speak Monday at an 11 a.m. dedication ceremony for Durham Center Access, an around-the-clock crisis center funded by the county's agency for mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities.

The facility, located right beside Durham Regional Hospital at 309 Crutchfield St., officially opens on Tuesday.

The structure was chock-ablock Thursday afternoon with workers delivering furniture. Rooms and hallways were filled with furnishings that had yet to be moved to their permanent positions, and fire-alarm tests frequently interrupted conversations.

"Every hour, one more piece of this building falls into place," said James Osborn, the crisis center's program director.

The structure features a secure area for short-term involuntary commitments. Before, patients were frequently sent to a state psychiatric facility.

The change is in keeping with new standards for county and regional mental-health agencies.

"They're wanting to keep people in the community for all of the services and keep the numbers down for folks that are sent to the state hospital," said Trish Hussey, executive director of Freedom House, which has had a contract to operate the crisis center for the last two years.

Since 2004, Durham Center Access has operated in a rented location in Central Medical Park. That building had five crisis evaluation and observation rooms and 12 overnight beds. The new space has 11 evaluation and observation areas and 16 overnight beds.

The new Durham Center Access features a meeting space for up to 100 people. Members of the public will be able to use it for training sessions and for meetings of support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

There are also offices for a mobile crisis team, which will respond to emergencies throughout the county, and for experts who will conduct substance-abuse assessments for anyone who walks into the facility during business hours.

Contractors were expected to work throughout the weekend to put the finishing touches on a nearly $3 million renovation project at the two-decade-old building. Once a county-run drug- and alcohol-treatment center known as Oakleigh, the facility closed in 2001 due to budget cuts and has been vacant since.

Durham County, Durham Center and Duke, which runs Durham Regional Hospital, struck a deal last year that allowed the crisis center to move to 309 Crutchfield.

The building, which temporarily closed after a 1997 fire set by a patient, now features sprinkler systems throughout the structure. It also has a new roof, new carpeting and new paint.

Durham Center, the county agency responsible for mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities, is paying Freedom House $3 million annually to run the new Durham Center Access. The facility will have typically have at least 10 staff members on site.

For information on or help with mental health, substance abuse or developmental disability issues, call the Durham Center's round-the-clock hotline at 560-7100.


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.

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