Alternative to jail reopens for those suffering mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A newly-reopened center will provide law enforcement officers alternatives to jail in dealing with people suffering from mental illnesses, substance abuse and homelessness.

It's the only center of it's kind in the state.

The Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center reopened it's Tri-county Crisis Stabilization Center, located in downtown Charleston at 5 Charleston Center Dr.

The center has 10 beds and will serve people 18 and older. The average stay time is about three and a half days.

Executive Director of the Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center, Deborah Blalock says the center opened yesterday and they have three patients who are already checked in and they are expecting two more as of Tuesday.

"What we focus on is what got you into the unit, what caused the crisis, how can we immediately solve the crisis and prevent that type of crisis from happening again," Blalock said.

The goal is to divert non-violent and medically stable people from emergency departments inpatient hospital beds and detention centers.

Deputy Chair for the Department of Psychiatry, Jeffrey Cluver says there's a great need for the center in the community. He's also the chief of mental health services at MUSC.

"One of the areas of critical need is decompressing all of the patients waiting for treatment in emergency departments throughout the area and really through the state and throughout the country," Cluver said. "It's a national problem."

It's also an effort to improve the criminal justice system and to safely lower the jail population.

The Assistant Sheriff for Charleston County, Mitch Lucas says it's a win for everyone involved.

"Having an opportunity to deal with it in a multifaceted way is much better than what we have now, we have now we either arrest or don't arrest," Lucas said.

Lucas says about 15 to 20 percent of the jail population is taking some type of psychiatric related drug. He also says there are more who are mentally ill.

As part of the center's services, law enforcement will have access to a clinician 24 hours a day seven days a week to seek assistance with how to handle certain cases. The officer can provide options other than jail time that include short-term psychiatric treatment beds at the center, detox or sobering services, housing assistance and more.

The center is reopening after closing in 2009. Blalock says the center was forced to close because DHEC required people who came in the unit to have a chest x-ray 30 days prior to admission.

"Because it was a crisis unit we were not able to meet that requirement," Blalock said.

She says DHEC has since granted the Department of Mental Health a waiver on that criteria.

The Tri-county Crisis Stabilization Center is in collaboration among several agencies in the Lowcountry who are addressing the need to help people get proper care.

"I'm super excited about it because I know it's going to be successful." Blalock said.

The last year the center was open they diverted more than 708 patients from hospitals.

The Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is involved in this effort.

Officials say the service is one of six core jail reform strategies supported by a $2.25 million grant. It's also funded by the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center, MUSC, Roper Saint Francis, the Charleston Center, the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, the Berkeley Mental Health Center and the Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

If anyone need assistance you can contact the Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center on it's 24-hour hotline at 843-953-2390.

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