Postby Nick Della Volpe » Wed Feb 27, 2013 9:54 am


A brief report on the 2/27/13 meeting sponsored by Commissioner Amy Broyles about the proposed Safety Center to be operated by Helen Ross McNabb near its 201W. Springdale Ave. location one block off to the left of North Central Ave. Sheriff JJ Jones, District Attorney General Randy Nichols, and Helen Ross McNabb President Andy Black helped with the presentation and answering questions.

THE PROBLEM: One way to address overcrowding jails, and multiple repeat arrests with high cost mentally ill and/or drug and alcohol dependent (but non-violent) offenders is to use a safety center (not a jail) to detox and medically stabilize these folks in a mental health intervention-type center, and hopefully get them enrolled with some type of follow-up provider that can help keep them properly medicated and stable for the longer term.
The sheriff says it costs his department some $180 to $190 per day to handle each such problem, public-disorder offenders (hospital/ medical care, psychotropic drugs, etc) versus an average $78 per day to house other types criminals. He projects the need to build another $18 M jail pod at the County's Maloney Road jail if this problem is not dealt with. Overall, the sheriffs office spends $30 M of its $70 M budget on corrections each year. Officers spend over 1 1/2 hours each time they ferry criminals to distant Maloneyville Rd.
The extra hidden cost is a criminal conviction takes away support/ care money by the loss of TennCare and SSI monies. This usually dumps care to unreimbursed emergency room providers (at a cost of $1500 per day), and puts these people in worse shape back on the streets. Attorney General Nichols these folks would get criminal diversion (= no record) and keep their benefits. If they cause trouble, JJ says they go straight to jail. This is for those willing to accept help and stick with the program.
Helen Ross McNabb (sometimes "HRMN") acknowledges this system is not perfect and that only so much can be done in a 3-day stay and that some system of follow-up care for mentally-ill persons is necessary to keep them on their meds and thus stable after release. They work with other mental health care provides like Penninsula and Cherokee, as well as state facilities like Moccasin bend and Ridgeway for such care, but that there is usually more demand than capacity available.

THE PROPOSAL: Build a $1 M facility next door to Helen Ross McNabb's existing facility on Springdale Ave. (essentially a light industrial area) on HRMN using shared city and county money for such stabilization services. It would be approx 10,000 sq. ft. and have 16 to 20 CSU beds plus 10 medically-monitored beds (HRMN already has 5 such beds for its present program which treated about 500 patients last year). The annual cost to run this new facility is estimated at $1.8M. It would employ 27 people and would treat 1500 to 1700 such patients per year. The state would pay monies via Tenncare and through some of the funds channeled to mentally ill service providers from the recent state closure of Lakeshore mental health facilities. Possibly, they could get some help from area hospitals and/or foundations for follow-up care.

THE QUESTIONS: Here are a few of the many good questions and concerns from the audience of approx. 60 people.

Location: Good idea, but why here, in an already over-missioned area? Why not build a facility downtown on the county's State Street land and then hire the provider to manage it? (= will be looked at.) Why not ask the state to turnover one of the existing Lakeshore buildings for such a treatment facility in a fenced in area? (= site transfer can be inquired into, but otherwise state wants out of mental health service business). Why not re-hab and reuse former Rule High School? ( bad roof and asbestos = too costly to fix.). What happens to north knox property values? (=present care at HRMN is non-intrusive, said to be basically invisible to community)

Where do they go after 3 days? These people will likely go off their meds without some form of follow-up guidance / support. They won't be put on the streets in the neighborhood, but if no follow-up provider help, they get released in front of City-county bldg. There is limited capacity for all the follow-up services; does this become another revolving door? (= JJ says this program is for the willing, after about two tries you are a jail, not re-hab case; same as unruly patients). There will be 24/7 police presence at HRMN.

Tried elsewhere? General Nichols said they looked at Akron, Ohio and Tucson, Arizona and hope for similar positive results. One of those locations had a big private donor to help fund the effort.
The no-build option: Sheriff says you spend more money: on police transport time, his budget's $325k on psycho-trophic drugs in jails, on new ($18 M) jail pod, on emergency room care ($1500/day), and on repeat public disorder offenders. He has about 20 people who accounted for 600 arrests last year.

What's next? This basic idea has been talked about for nearly a decade. Probably there will be two more public meetings, and some follow-up work re location. There is always the question of fund availability. County? City? The healthcare service contract will have to be re-bid, since the original RFP was completed back in 2010, and HRMN was the only bidder.
Nick Della Volpe
Posts: 110
Joined: Mon Jul 02, 2012 4:00 pm

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