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New Mental Health and Crisis Center opening in SE Austin

Herman Center Rendering. Source: Austin Travis County Integral Care

Tuesday community leaders broke ground on a first-of-its kind mental health crisis center in Travis County.

Currently, the lack of access to emergency psychiatric services is putting a strain on first responders' resources but this facility is expected to change that.

In 2015 Austin Police were dispatched to 9,914 mental health calls. Between January 1 and February 29, 2016 they were dispatched to 1,698 mental health calls. These calls involved an emotionally disturbed person, attempted suicide or emergency detention.

The Judge Guy Herman Center for Mental Health and Crisis Care will be a safe alternative to inpatient psychiatric hospitals or emergency rooms. It's an alternative that Valerie Dodd Milburn wishes we had sooner.

"Although I live in recovery with bi-polar disorder, I have struggled in the past and when I ended up in the emergency room, I was transferred to a center that was not appropriate for me. The Herman center would have been a really great option for me," Milburn says.

Commitment at the center will be voluntary or emergency-involuntary by law enforcement.

"There's a mental health crisis not only in the Austin community but around the United States as a whole," says Austin Police Lt. Brian Jones.

The center will provide mental health assessment, stabilization and treatment for patients. It also provides law enforcement an alternative option for getting people help faster.

"If a person is in need of psychiatric care-- immediate psychiatric care-- they may or may not receive that from an emergency room or the jail," Lt. Jones says.

Austin Travis County Integral Care, the county's mental health authority, is developing the center with support from the community. St. David's Foundation provided an $8.9 Million grant for the project and Central Health made the land, valued at an estimated $1.2 Million, available through a long-term lease for $1 per year.

"One in five individuals have some type of mental health issue in a given year, and we know from our experience locally that half of all of the people that come into our system are new and we've never seen them before," says Ellen Richards, chief strategy officer at Austin Travis County Integral Care.

The average stay at the Herman Center will be an estimated 3-5 days with patients quickly being put on a path to recovery.

"I think it's really important for the community to know that treatment is always necessary because recovery is possible. There is always hope. I'm a living example of that," says Milburn

The 16-bed facility will open in spring of 2017. An estimated 1460 patients will be served in the first year and 1,655 patients in the second year.


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