South Bend announces funding for mental health center
SOUTH BEND — After St. Joseph County commissioners submitted a funding agreement that would pay for the construction and operation of a behavioral crisis center, South Bend Mayor James Mueller announced Tuesday that the city will step in to provide funding for mental health. center.
In a statement, the city announced it will provide $2.66 million in American Rescue Plan funds to pay for the crisis center in partnership with Oaklawn. The behavioral crisis center is being built at the existing Epworth Hospital in downtown South Bend and will provide 14 beds for residents in need of emergency mental health care.
The money will pay for construction costs as well as the center’s first year of operation. Oaklawn will manage the center, which is expected to be completed by late spring, and has been in the works since late 2021 as a partnership between local governments, Oaklawn, Memorial Hospital and local police agencies.
Officials have had talks about the center for two years. But it gained traction in August after 51-year-old Donte Kittrel was fatally shot by police. Authorities later learned that he suffered from mental health problems.
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“After years of collaboration, I am pleased that our community is ready to establish a crisis center and fill the gaps in our mental health services,” Mueller said in a written statement. “This partnership between the city and Oaklawn provides the necessary funds for the construction of the center and its initial operating costs.”
Plans for the center had stalled in recent weeks when county commissioners filed an agreement that would provide county funding for the project. St. Joseph County councilors approved about $2.7 million to pay for the center in a unanimous vote in late 2021.
However, the commissioners’ decision to contract with Oaklawn effectively voided the council’s previous assignment and dozens of community members, activist groups and public officials, including Mueller and South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski, spoke out against the vote to postpone funding. .
At that meeting, Commissioners Carl Baxmeyer and Derek Dieter raised questions about the center’s ability to pay for the long-term. The fallout from the commissioners’ vote led, in part, to St. Joseph County Health Officer Robert Einterz announcing his resignation. In an interview with The Tribune, Einterz said the funding board’s decision was the latest instance of “harassment of the health department” by commissioners.
With the city’s intervention, the center will have enough funding to operate for a year, giving residents a place to receive emergency mental health care and giving police officers a place to take people experiencing mental health crises. mental health instead of jailing or taking them. them to the emergency room.
“We are honored to have the city’s support for this project as the next step in making the crisis center a reality,” said Oaklawn President and CEO Laurie Nafziger. “We are working diligently with county officials to answer all questions, and we wholeheartedly believe that the crisis center is the next step in serving the mental health needs of our communities.”
Funding for the center beyond the first year is still up in the air. The county commissioners may approve the funding they submitted, though the measure will now need to be approved by the newly elected county council. Einterz has no faith that the council, which has a new Republican majority, will approve the funding, he said.
Beyond St. Joseph County, the city and Oaklawn have expressed optimism that additional state resources for mental health care will become available in upcoming legislative sessions.
“I am optimistic that additional funding partnerships with the county and state will sustain the crisis center and these critical mental health services beyond their initial years,” Mueller’s statement read.
Email Marek Mazurek at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek