August 2, 2008

Rehab Center’s Move Helps Localize Patient Care: Space Doubles at New Center

By Jim Wise, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

Aug. 2--At Durham Center Access, visitors, employees and clients spent Tuesday checking out, settling into and getting comfortable with a brand-new place.

"We had a lot of people feeling like it's their first day at school," director James Osborn said. "We actually ordered pizza."

Tuesday was the first day of business for Durham County's new crisis-treatment place for mental health, developmental disability and drug and alcohol abuse.

Durham Center Access has operated since 2004, but this week it moved out of confining quarters in Central Medical Park to the refurbished former Oakleigh Treatment Center on the Durham Regional Hospital grounds.

With the move, Durham Center Access got office and meeting space and more beds, and for the first time has a "lockdown" area for "consumers" (i.e., clients or patients) involuntarily committed for treatment.

The new facility expands Access's ability to keep its consumers close to home while reducing demand on emergency rooms and state hospitals. It is open 24 hours a day, every day, for walk-in patients as well as those referred by physicians or counselors or brought in by police.

"Our mission is to keep people in the community," Osborn said. "We've seen that [lead to] the best outcomes."

Access is meant to be a "one-stop kind of location," he said, providing emergency assessment and stabilizing of up to two weeks' duration, and referrals for more intensive and ongoing therapies as called for.

Access's new home, at 309 Crutchfield St., has 26,000 square feet, 11,000 more than its previous space, and 16 beds, up from 12.

Oakleigh, the former occupant, offered detox and longer-term drug and alcohol rehabilitation. It closed in 2001 and the building, used only for hospital storage, fell into severe disrepair.

The building's own rehabilitation required tearing out walls, getting rid of mold and reconfiguring the interior, said architect John Thompson. While the exterior looks much as it did, the inside sports new skylights, fresh paint in assorted soft shades, landscape and abstract paintings on the walls and window-filled walls giving views of woods outside.

"We wanted an environment that was non-institutional," Osborn said.

One institutional qualification is new: no smoking. Even the fenced yard is available for "clean-air breaks instead of smoke breaks," he said. "We're teaching about resisting impulses ... for crack or nicotine."

During a ceremonial ribbon-cutting on Monday, several dignitaries spoke of the new Access as a "gateway" and "front door."

"It's a front door that leads to freedom of choice," said Doug Wright, who chaired the county's mental-health management agency, the Durham Center, from 2002 until earlier this year. "Freedom from isolation ... freedom of recovery, independence, happiness."

Present Durham Center chairman Earl Phillips said Wright was the "taskmaster" behind Durham Center Access's development.

"It's been a long journey," Wright said. "We can help a lot of people."

During Monday's speechmaking, a gremlin in the works flicked the room lights off and on. Tuesday, though, moving in and setting up came off without a glitch, Osborn said.

"Each piece is sort of falling into place."

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