EXCLUSIVE: First look inside Montgomery’s mental health crisis center

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 10:45 AM CDT|Updated: May. 12, 2022 at 10:30 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Individuals in Montgomery facing a mental health crisis will now have a facility available to seek treatment.

Carastar Health, formerly known as the Montgomery Area Mental Health Authority, will open its new crisis center next week.

The building off Carmichael Road is a temporary facility while their main building continues to be built.

“Our goal here is, instead of going to the emergency room or maybe being arrested, they (patients) can come here, and they’re evaluated to see what they need,” said Carastar Health Executive Director Donna Leslie.

The new diversion center will be open 24/7 to families and law enforcement and help those looking for bed space for their loved ones. The facility is an alternative to being sent to jail or a hospital emergency room if in crisis.

“Nobody wants the ERs filling up with people in crisis. Nobody wants the jails filling up with people in crisis,” Leslie said.

Trained professionals will be available on-site to evaluate and treat patients.

“We have a medical physician, psychiatrist, therapist, (and) case manager,” Leslie said. “They are going to talk with the person, do some labs, do a physical exam, see what’s going on, and see what they need.”

The facility offers eight temporary observation chairs and four beds where patients can stay for up to a week.

“This is gonna fill a gap that’s been needed for a while,” Leslie said.

While the temporary facility is being used, construction is still underway on what will eventually be Carastar Health’s main facility. Renovations are still underway at a former Auto-Owners Insurance building opposite the modular temporary crisis center.

Leslie said they hope to complete the main facility by the end of the year. Supply chain issues and workforce shortages have caused months-long delays on the project.

“Originally, we had hoped to have this building done by the end of last year, so clearly that didn’t happen,” Leslie said. “Once we hit early fall and we realized there’s just no way, that’s when we decided to get the modular buildings in place cause we needed the services now.”

The main facility will offer 10 observation beds where patients can spend up to 23 hours and 16 beds to stay for up to seven days.

The temporary facility will open in phases. The first patients will be referred through law enforcement, and then the center will open to the public.

The state has helped fund six total mental health crisis centers. Two more centers are operational in Huntsville and Mobile. Three more are in the works in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Dothan.

When the facility in Montgomery opens, families can call 800-408-4197 to get help.

Carastar Health also offers help through their After-Hours Mobile Crisis Team, a program they will continue to use along with the diversion center.

For families in crisis or law enforcement in need of placement for a person in crisis, contact Carastar Health at 334-279-7830.

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