New ‘mental health emergency room’ being built to serve Chatham County

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – As Chatham County and state leaders gathered Wednesday for a groundbreaking, they promised the facility they’re about to build will “break ground” in terms of services for those with mental health issues.

The Chatham County Behavioral Health Crisis Center is set to open sometime in the spring of 2020.

“It is a freestanding mental health emergency room,” said Dr. Mark Johnson from Gateway Community Services Board. “There are places where people can stay almost a full day just to be observed. There are also 24 beds that like an in-patient patient unit and people stay there five to seven days.” 

Gateway will operate the facility and Johnson says the project is a culmination of years of effort from Chatham County, state lawmakers and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. 

“This will be a tremendous resource for the community,” said Johnson. “If you’ve  got a family member or a friend with a mental health crisis you don’t have to sit somewhere waiting for help to come that might take hours.”

Johnson says people can walk in and get mental health care from a specialized team. He says the services are for all those who need help, whether they have insurance, no insurance or are under-insured.  

He also says it is expected to benefit the hundreds arrested each year 

“This is where law enforcement will bring somebody that historically they would have had to take to jail, and they don’t really want to arrest on a non-violent misdemeanor but jail has been their only option,” said Johnson.  

Chatham County Commissioner Helen Stone championed the project. “What it means is the ability to help people who have fallen through the cracks and have not been served and are ending up in our jail for low level offenses when what they really need is assistance and counseling so that they can assimilate back into the community and not end up in jail,” she said. 

Stone says the county will provide tens of thousands of dollars per year to help operate the facility but expects that ultimately money will be saved by not sending those with mental health issues to jail.

The project is also endorsed by Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher. 

“These people don’t need to be in jail, they need to be somewhere where they can become productive citizens again,” the sheriff told News 3. “They have a mental health issue but that doesn’t mean they should be an outcast in the community, they’re human beings and can take care of them and this is what’s going to happen right here.”

Judy Fitzgerald, the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities said that Chatham County is leading the way in working for so many years to get the facility approved and funded. 

“The ability of this facility to treat people in need is going to be remarkable and life-saving,” said Fitzgerald. 

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