By Sara Pagones,
May 9, 2019 – 12:04 pm
St. Tammany Parish will soon open bids to renovate part of the former Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville into a 24-bed facility for people in the midst of mental health crises who otherwise might end up in emergency rooms or jail.
Parish officials did not have a cost estimate for the project because bids haven’t been opened yet. But Kelly Rabalais, the chief administrative officer, said the work could be completed as early as the end of 2019.
The new facility is being funded in part by settlement money from the BP oil spill, officials said.
Parish President Pat Brister gave an update on the parish’s mental health initiative Thursday. She said St. Tammany has turned a corner since buying the former state mental hospital on U.S. 190 for $15.4 million in March 2015 and launching plans to turn it into a mental healthcare campus.
When the state closed Southeast Louisiana Hospital in June 2012, Brister said, the parish began working to ensure that St. Tammany wouldn’t lose critically needed services.
While there was some initial skepticism of the project, over time it gained support from law enforcement, the medical community and the criminal justice system.
A crisis receiving center was identified as a gap in mental health services even before the parish bought the property, Brister said.
Nick Richard, president of the mental health advocacy group NAMI St. Tammany, said that last year, doctors in St. Tammany Parish signed 6,000 physician emergency certificates, which result in a 72-hour involuntary commitment for people doctors believe are a danger to themselves or others or who are gravely disabled by mental illness.
In many cases, emergency rooms don’t have a psychiatrist on hand to make that determination, according to Richard Kramer, executive director of the Florida Parishes Human Services Authority, and doctors often err on the side of caution. But in some cases, patients’ needs can be met without hospitalization, he said.
Start Corp., which the parish has chosen as the operator of Safe Haven, will also operate the crisis receiving center. It will provide a range of services from behavioral health assessments and emergency screening to stabilization and psychological observation.
The center must be licensed by the state in order to be able to bill for services, something that normally happens after facilities are in place, officials said. Casey Guidry, a social worker with Start Corp., said that they are seeking a provisional license.
St. Tammany sold a portion of the Southeast Louisiana Hospital site to Northlake Behavioral Health, which operates a psychiatric hospital there, for $6.7 million in 2016.
Funding for Safe Haven comes partly from a public health millage, but the parish also receives rental income from agencies that use the campus, including the St. Tammany school system, which has two schools on the grounds.
The campus is also home to the Methodist Children’s Home of Greater new Orleans, two inpatient substance abuse treatment units under the Florida Parishes Human Services Authority, and NAMI’s day center.
NAMI Day Center opens at Safe Haven campus
Safe Haven also received a $5.3 million grant through the state for drainage work.