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ASHEBORO — The target date to open a 16-bed facility-based crisis center in Asheboro is April-June of next year.

The crisis center also will have what are called 23-hour observation chairs for short-term monitoring or treatment.

Sandhills Center bought the Daymark building at 110 W. Walker Ave. from Randolph County in December for $1.5 million with plans to develop an alternative to hospitalization for adults experiencing a behavioral health crisis.

The center will be open to Randolph County residents, as well as residents of eight other counties Sandhills serves.

Daymark Recovery, a nonprofit organization, will run it. Daymark already provides an array of outpatient and psychiatric services for the treatment of mental illness, substance abuse and developmental disabilities in the Walker Avenue building. And they already operate several crisis centers in the state.

The current services, which will continue, are available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

With the expansion, services will be available around the clock every day.

“Sandhills has never had a facility like this,” Sandhills CEO Victoria Whitt said. “It’s centrally located with good access. This would be our first major project.”

Services and jobs

According to Daymark CEO Billy West, the expanded facility will benefit Randolph County and its residents on several fronts.

Foremost are the services. Projections are that the facility-based crisis center will see about 1,000 people a year, while up to twice that many may utilize the 23-hour observation chairs.

Now if someone in crisis is at Daymark at closing time, options are limited. They can go home and come back later or go to a hospital emergency department.

Next year, individuals who need further assessment will be able to transition to the 23-hour chairs downstairs or be admitted directly to the facility-based crisis center upstairs.

The expanded services also will give law officers dealing with individuals in crisis an after-hours alternative to jail or the emergency department.

“The problem we’ve had,” West said, “is we close at 5. It’s going to be all-day, all night, seven days a week. This is a lifesaver.”

He also says the facility will be “a job creator.”

Daymark employs about 30 in Asheboro and will hire about 42 more to staff the facility-based crisis center and the 23-hour chairs. Most will work in the crisis center. The new employees will include a psychiatrist, who will likely work part-time; nurses; counselors; social workers; and peer support.

A chair or a bed?

Some people need 24-hour supervision along with evaluation and treatment/intervention. Those individuals can stay in the facility-based crisis center for up to 14 days; six days is the average length of stay.

These beds will be located behind locked doors on the top floor of the facility.

Some people just need quiet time to regroup, to get help with a plan of action to move forward, to sober up. The 23-hour chairs will allow monitoring or treatment for individuals while placement is located or while a crisis is de-escalated.

The chairs will be on the bottom floor — in the space that formerly housed the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Randolph County. The doors will be open all the time.

“We’re hoping the observation chairs will keep people out of the emergency room,” Whitt said.

Renovations will begin in the next few months. First, the state must approve the architects’ plans. After that, bids will be let for a contractor. Whitt said she hopes to get her board’s approval for a contractor in October. Work will be completed in phases.

Most of the construction will be on the top floor, but Daymark’s current operations will be moved to the bottom floor while its second-floor offices are redone, including new paint and carpet. Then work can begin downstairs. One unexpected expense will be replacing the 20-year-old heating and air-conditioning system in the entire building.

The renovations and architects’ fees will tally more than $1 million.

Follow the money

Sandhills Center is a publicly funded LME-MCO (Local Management Entity-Managed Care Organization) tasked by the state to manage public mental health, intellectual/developmental disabilities and substance use disorder services in central North Carolina.

Sandhills does not provide services, but manages a network of contracted private providers in Randolph, Anson, Guilford, Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Montgomery, Moore and Richmond counties.

Randolph County gives Sandhills an allocation each year to fund Daymark programs. In the fiscal year that started July 1, Sandhills will receive $844,000, which is an increase over previous years to offset the expansion of services.

The current state budget, however, cut funding for Sandhills and each of the other seven regional mental health agencies. The monies are intended for services, including indigent care for people without insurance.

This was the third year in a row legislators have cut mental health funding. The first two years, according to Whitt, funding was reduced by $48 million; this year, the cut was about $15 million; plans for next year would cut the same amount.

Still, she said, the state mandates that LME/MCOs must provide the same level of services as before, using their fund balance or savings.

The cuts did not derail the Walker Avenue expansion.

“We still feel comfortable we have the resources to continue with this project,” Whitt said. “However, if the General Assembly does continue to cut back year after year after year, I can’t predict the future. You can only go to the well so many times.

“We can this year and next year, and maybe the next year, but eventually that well’s going to run dry.”

Article Reference: Daymark will expand behavioral health services to 24/7