Mental Health Crisis Center Approved for St. Joseph County

By Erica Finke | WSBT 22

The St. Joseph County Council voted unanimously for a mental health crisis center and response system.

It’s likely going to be set up in an already-existing 4,000-square-foot space within Epworth Hospital.

It’ll hold about 12 patients at a time.

The first year will cost $2.7 million dollars through federal coronavirus funds.

The total project cost would come to about $4 million.

Oaklawn will staff the crisis center; Oaklawn and Epworth will both work to develop a business plan and long-term funding.

Right now in St. Joseph County, there’s only a few options for people in a mental health crisis: go to the emergency room, Epworth Hospital or jail.

This is a problem Keith Walatka knows well.

He said these aren’t great places for people dealing with a mental illness.

“The past two years we had to call 9-1-1 six different times for a family member of mine in crisis, mental health crisis,” Walatka explained.

He said the police were helpful in deescalating the situation.

During the first five times, the police told Walatka there was nothing they could do because there was nowhere to bring his family member.

“The sixth time it escalated to a point where it was arrestable and the cops ended up arresting my family member and since then, they’ve been away in a prison and I can’t help but this how much this crisis response center would’ve changed the game.”

Stories like Walatka’s aren’t uncommon.

Rebekah Go works with Faith in Indiana’s Jail Diversion Task Force.

Go said mental health and substance abuse has gotten worse during the pandemic.

Most people in a crisis are set to jail.

She said this facility will allow anybody to get psychiatric help and medications.

“Most of these cases actually resolve within 23 hours and so that person is seen, they’re cared for, their needs are met and they get their referrals necessary to live productive lives,” Go said.

“But the crisis is averted and they’re not in jail.”

Rafael Morton, St. Joseph County Council President, said he’s glad this proposal passed unanimously.

He said he’s overwhelmed by the support from the community to make this crisis center happen.

“To say that this is a superlative, collaborative effort by our community would be a major understatement.”

Walatka’s family member is expected to get out of prison next year.

He said this mental health crisis center will be a game changer for the community.

“There’s a huge outage in our system but now with this center, there’s going to be a gap filled in a major way.”

See full article, along with video, at WSBT 22

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