Butler County seeks feedback on mental health crisis center plans

Forums next month will highlight the favored model and allow fpr community discussion.

The Butler County mental health board is holding forums next month to gather feedback and listen to concerns about the Emergency Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Center planned for the old county nursing home.

Officials countywide have talked about this facility for years but paused the project a year ago so Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board Executive Director Scott Rasmus could finetune the plan and seek input.

Rasmus told the Journal-News he will be holding three forums next month to present the favored model and allow a community discussion.

“Just wanting to say hey this is the model, this is what we’re looking at and in an open forum to educate about it, so everybody is aware of what it is and what it can do, and the timeline until it’s implemented if it’s endorsed,” Rasmus said. “And then take question and answers to clarify and then to take feedback to see what are the concerns.”

The plan is to use a section of the former Care Facility — the commissioners closed the nursing home last year — and start with 10 observation chairs and 10 private rooms to offer “a continuum of care for non-violent individuals experiencing a serious and immediate mental health need.”

“The cornerstone of this continuum would serve as the central and preferred destination for residents in crisis, whether they are experiencing a mental health breakdown or complications resulting from withdrawal from alcohol or other drugs,” the MHARS board description reads. “Law enforcement, emergency medical personnel and families could access the center 24/7 for help.”

After patients are stabilized in the observation area they are either referred out for wraparound services or admitted for two to five days for further in-house treatment.

The MHARS Board does not provide direct services they manage funding for outside providers, so Rasmus needs to put out a request for proposals to find someone to run it. The commissioners told him they wanted him to get input from the various communities on the facility — namely Hamilton where the Care Facility resides and neighboring Fairfield Twp. He said he has also had discussions with Middletown staffers.

Several years ago, Rasmus conducted two rounds of eight focus group meetings. Attendees were from a wide swath of the community including police, judges, clergy, doctors, elected officials, about 80 to100, all tolled.

Rasmus gave the Fairfield Twp. trustees a presentation last month and Trustee Michael Berding told the Journal-News, “I would be in favor of it going in as long as our chiefs don’t have an overwhelming concern.”

“As a leader in our community I do have to take into consideration what our highest ranking police and fire personnel are thinking,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I have to take it as Bible but I do have to at least consider it.”

He said he would also defer to the wishes of Hamilton since it is in their jurisdiction.

Rasmus met with Hamilton city council in June and was peppered with questions about how this center impacts the burgeoning homeless issue. City Manager Joshua Smith also asked him why the hospitals wouldn’t be a better option for this service.

“It’s another facility in Hamilton, and if (the homeless) are discharged, there’s no guarantee they’ll be returning to where they came from originally,” said Smith. “I’m just struggling to understand why Hamilton would be the best location.”

Rasmus told the Journal-News he has reached out to the area hospitals since that meeting and will be having discussions.

The county commissioners have already allocated $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars to this project, some of it to renovate the Care Facility for this use, rather than build a new facility. Commissioner Don Dixon told the Journal-News the hospitals aren’t an option.

“I don’t think the hospitals are even geared to that kind of treatment anymore,” Dixon said adding the last psych ward was at Fort Hamilton and it closed a couple years ago. “The last one was a couple years ago and they said it just didn’t work. So I don’t believe that’s an opportunity, I believe that’s all off the table.”

Dixon said he is glad Rasmus is reaching out to a large portion of the county to get their input and they will not force the issue if local communities strenuously oppose it, “this has to have the community support and if we don’t have that it won’t work anyway.”

Cost is another issue to be considered. Rasmus said Care Facility renovations are estimated at $1 million and the balance of ARPA funs could be used for start-up costs. He has other commitments for capital costs. The annual cost to run it is estimated at $7 million and he said they would likely need an additional tax levy to support the facility.

How to participate

The forums will be 5-7 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Butler Tech Career Center in Fairfield Twp.; Sept. 13 at the Mercy Health Fairfield Healthplex and Sept. 18 in the Middletown City Council Chambers.

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