Ivey: Birmingham’s new crisis center is a ‘game changer’ for those battling mental health

As the state grapples with growing mental health needs, a new facility brought Birmingham one step closer to being able to provide more care space on Tuesday.

This week, the Jefferson, Blount, St. Clair (JBS) Mental Health Authority hosted the official ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony for its new state-funded mental health center.

“Cutting the ribbon on this Craig Crisis Center here in Birmingham, it’s a game changer,” Governor Ivey said. “…This was a really great amount of support from the community and that means a lot when it comes to finding a new way to deliver needed care.”

“In March of this year, 2023, we will have six of these crisis centers up and running here in Alabama. Therefore, this is an important step to improve mental health care for our citizens. They can receive immediate attention and care in a place that has well-trained people. So I’m proud to be a part of this effort to move forward for all of Alabama.”

The $6 million facility, located on Beacon Pkwy. W in Birmingham, was named the Craig Crisis Care Center in early October in honor of former JBS chief executive Dr Richard Craig.

Craig said his long-term effort to get a place for people with mental health crises in addition to jail or the ER was only possible because of broad support from the Birmingham community and the state.

“My name is on the building, but I’m just a man,” Craig said. “… You [JBS and the Alabama Department of Mental Health] he did a great job over the years planning routes to get us going.”

Governor Ivey attended the ceremony as a speaker along with the following mental health and government officials:

• Commissioner Kimberly Boswell, Alabama Department of Mental Health

• Jim Crego, Executive Director, JBS Mental Health Authority

• Senator Jabo Wagoner, Alabama District 16

• Sheriff Mark Pettway, Jefferson County

• Daniel Hargrove, Certified Peer Specialist, JBS Mental Health Authority

Since 2020, Ivey has announced funding for six total mental health crisis centers across the state. This is the fourth to be built so far along with similar centers in Mobile, Huntsville and Montgomery. The latter two were announced by Ivey last May and will be located in Tuscaloosa and Dothan.

Pettway called Ivey and Wagoner’s support for this project “good governance” and said more than 300 of their aides had been trained so far on how to handle de-escalation and mental health crisis calls. He added that deputies from other surrounding areas were also invited to come to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and receive training.

“This is a game changer for all law enforcement,” Pettway said. “We will no longer have to wait in the hospital for 8, 10 or 15 hours. We can drop you off and head back to your community in a few minutes. That too is good government.”

Dr. Sabrina Scott was appointed CEO of Craig Crisis Care last February and comes to the role with 15 years of clinical and managerial experience, according to the JBS website.

The new facility has a total of 48 places, 32 of which will be for temporary stays. The remaining 16 beds will be for extended observation for those over the age of 19 who are “actively experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis,” according to a previous JBS press release.

Temporary beds have a maximum stay of 23 hours and extended observation beds have a maximum stay of up to five days.

Craig previously said this is due to a state policy that it will only pay for up to seven days of care.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Crego explained that once people stabilized at the center, local resources would be established in their community to ensure continued success.

Crego said that while JBS does not have an exact date, they plan to open to the public; They point to mid-February. He said the reason for this was to give staff, law enforcement and local emergency departments time to learn and get used to the new facilities.

He added that once the center officially opens, it will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so there will be no opportunity to close and reopen if there are problems the first time.

He went on to say that even though JBS was taking the time to ensure efficiency, this didn’t mean they were trying to make it slower than necessary.

“We are not going to delay,” Crego said. “We know the need is out there.”

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