A center that St. Tammany Parish officials said would provide an alternative to an emergency room or jail cell for people during a mental health crisis is closed after losing its operator, St. Tammany Parish President Mike Cooper said Tuesday.
Parish spokesperson Michael Vinsanau said that the non-profit Start Corporation, which has served as the operator of Safe Haven’s Crisis Receiving Center in Mandeville since it opened last October, had a contract through September of 2024 and was provided nearly $436,000 in startup funds by the parish and the st. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office.
The nonprofit told parish officials that the service was not financially sustainable unless the parish funded the operation, and in early June gave the parish 60 days notice it was not going to continue, Vinsanau said.
“Shortly thereafter, they notified the parish that they will close on June 30,” Vinsanau said. But according to the news release Tuesday, the center is already closed.
The center, which received some grant funding, had about $90,00 per month in operational costs, Vinsanau said. Beginning in August, Medicaid will reimburse for crisis receiving center costs, but the agency wasn’t willing to fund operations during that gap, Vinsanau said.
Cooper, in a news release, said he was disappointed that Start will no longer operate that center, but he called the temporary closure and said the parish will move “expeditiously” in finding a new operator. Mental services are desperately needed in the parish, Cooper said, with more than 5,000 residents experiencing a mental health crisis in 2021 and 45 reported suicides that same year.
The Safe Haven Crisis Receiving Center opened last October to much fanfare, with parish officials lauding it as a needed resource and a key addition to Safe Haven, a behavioral health campus that the parish has been developing since it bought the former state mental hospital property off US 190 from the state in 2015 following its closure by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal.
To intervene and stabalize
The 23-bed facility was described at the time as the second such center to be licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health, its purpose to intervene and stabilize people experiencing a behavioral health crisis and connect them to the most appropriate treatment. Patients typically stayed for 24 to 72 hours, according to a news release at the time of the opening.
The center served 105 patients from October 2021 through April, with a total of 358 days of care, Vinsanau said.
Mason Smith, who was the center’s director, described the decision to stop operating as a joint one between the parish and Start Corporation. He said he was not involved.
“I got notified like everybody else that we were shutting down. So unfortunately it wasn’t something that I had much of a say in,” he said.
But Smith said patients have still had plenty of options and said that the center had a relatively low census during the time it was open.
Impact expected to be low
“We’ve communicated with all of the patients we have served that we are shutting down,” he said. “Most of them, if they came to our facility and they were discharged, they have very extensive discharge summaries….they’ve been connected with other services. So I really don’t think patients will be greatly affected.”
Richard Kramer, executive director of the Florida Parishes Human Services Administration and an ember of the Safe Haven Advisory Board, said he doesn’t expect much short-term impact, mainly because the center never got going full steam.
“In general, it was nowhere near capacity,” he said, adding that the model Start Corporation wanted wasn’t consistent with the parish’s vision.
Although Start Corporation indicated parish funding was the only sustainable approach, Kramer said, other operators have shown an interest. “Clearly, at least on the surface, they must think it’s a good opportunity that’s sustainable,” he said.
While crisis receiving centers are not yet common in Louisiana, it is the direction across the country, Kramer said.
Nick Richard, executive director of NAMI-St. Tammany, said that it’s upsetting that the agency “would leave us this gap for a few months. We don’t want to see a disruption in care.” But he said Safe Haven is still operating and that people have outpatient options.
Northlake Behavioral, an inpatient facility, is also on the Safe Haven campus.