BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - As suicide rates shoot up and mental illness tightens its grip on the capital area, Baton Rouge is desperate for a solution.
Voters overwhelmingly signed off on a property tax to fund a new crisis center back in December of 2018, but the money will not be available until early 2020. Kathy Kliebert, chair for the Bridge Center, says they are working tirelessly to bring the services online as quickly as possible.
“What we are focused on now is though how do we appropriately get the right people to be able to provide those services," she added.
The facility promises to provide a one stop shop for those in need. Some of the incredible options that should be available include detox beds, counseling services, and even a case management program.
“It is probably the most critical component of making sure these individuals get the treatment they need and stay in the treatment and get to the point of full recovery,” said Kliebert.
In March, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council gave the go-ahead for the Bridge Center to lead the charge and enter into a 10-year cooperative endeavor agreement with the parish to provide the services. The vote passed 7 to 2, but it did not come without an hour-long debate and a wide range of questions and criticism from council members and members of the public. Some of those who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting expressed concerns with the ongoing efforts, calling them less than transparent.
“I’m having a tale of two emotions,” said Jennifer Carwile. “I’m very excited that it passed, but very disappointed to discover there was no clear plan.”
“I just have a problem right now,” said Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson. “It seems like it’s just a cluster.”
It’s feedback Kathy Kliebert says the Bridge Center welcomes, saying they have already formed several committees focused on identifying service providers and crafting a budget.
“We wanted to be sure what we could do when and develop a budget before we went to those organizations,” said Kliebert. She expects the budget will be done by June 1 and says that is when the real work to answer the growing need for mental health services can begin.
“Our hope is that we can have it by the end of this year so that funding we can use to begin hiring staff, training staff, and getting a building ready," Kliebert added.
Councilman Chandler Loupe voted against moving ahead with the group in March, but says his early concerns are replaced with confidence that the Bridge Center is the answer.
“It’s going to benefit all areas of the community, so I’ll do everything I can to make that happen,” said Loupe.