BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The Bridge Center’s board of directors is aiming to have the mental health facility open in March of 2020, Chairwoman Kathy Kliebert told WAFB Tuesday, July 30.
Medical vendors have been submitting applications to manage the facility since mid-June, but the process closes Aug. 1. It was extended by six days because of Hurricane Barry.
Kliebert says the board will review the applications and take oral presentations from candidate vendors during the second week of August and hopes to announce the vendor by Aug. 21.
“We want a facility that basically doesn’t say ‘no’ to anybody,” she said in an interview. “Even some individuals who are responding to their crisis through violence can still be served at the center.”
The selected vendor and the board of directors will pick a location, which may require some renovations. Kliebert says the board hopes to have staff hired and training in January.
Nearly 70% of East Baton Rouge Parish voters who cast a ballot in December signed off on the long-talked about idea. The facility is funded by a 1.5 mill increase in property taxes, a roughly $18 bump each year on a $200,000 property. Residents will pay the tax through 2029, generating $60 million over ten years to keep the facility open.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore says the majority of the cases he handles involve a mental illness.
“Lots of mental health issues go unaddressed, and if left alone they just fester,” Moore said.
Moore and other law enforcement officials pushed hard for the facility so mentally ill patients can get treatment instead of jail time. Family members or law enforcement will be able to commit loved ones on the brink of collapse to the Bridge Center, hopefully before they hurt themselves or someone else.
“I certainly believe its a crisis situation,” Kliebert said. “Every day that we don’t open, we’re putting people in jail, having people wait in emergency rooms, and not getting people the services they need to get back into the community.”
Officials believe the 30-bed facility will treat as many as 5,000 people each year. After the patients check out, Bridge Center workers will keep up with the patients to ensure they remain healthy.
“If they’re healthier, they’re going behave differently,” Moore said. “They’re not going to become a defendant, and won’t find themselves in jail.”
The closest comparable facility is in San Antonio. St. Tammany Parish is also developing a unique mental health system.
“We all feel the impact of it,” said Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, who sits on the Bridge Center board with Moore and Kliebert. “As a community and a parish, if it affects one, it affects all.”