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This story originally appeared here and is published by Carolina Public Press through a content-sharing agreement with N.C. Health News.

By Taylor Sisk
N.C. Health News

The state Department of Health and Human Services has awarded just under $2 million in grant money to a partnership of Western North Carolina organizations to open a 24-hour urgent care and crisis facility for mental health and addiction treatment. The facility will be located adjacent to Mission Hospital on Biltmore Avenue in Asheville and should be fully up and running by early next year.

Funding for the center is intended to advance the DHHS’s Crisis Solutions Initiative. The partnership was headed by Smoky Mountain, the managed care organization responsible for public funds for behavioral health and developmental disability services in 23 western counties.

RHA Health Services, a nonprofit services and support provider, will operate the facility. It will serve primarily 11 Western North Carolina counties, but residents of any of the counties in Smoky Mountain’s catchment area can use it.

Services offered will include a 24-hour urgent care unit for mental health and substance use treatment, a mobile crisis-management team, a mental health and substance use crisis facility, outpatient services for mental health and substance use and a community pharmacy.

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It will also have certified peer support specialists to help build relationships and connect people to community resources.

The local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness will offer family support.

Smoky Mountain Center, the mental health agency for many western counties, will open a new crisis center in Asheville in phases over the coming year.

Services will be provided in the context of a recovery-oriented system of care, Genny Pugh, Smoky Mountain’s senior director for community collaboration, said at a Thursday press conference announcing the center’s launch.

Each person “will be met where they are in their process of recovery, and that process can continue for them,” Pugh said. When they leave, she said, “they will be connected at this site with the services they need going forward.

“It’s a wrap-around of services in a recovery-oriented system of care that’s going to be so dramatically different.”

Sandy Feutz, RHA’s vice president of operations, said the intent is to provide an integration of crisis and routine services to “get on the front end of these crisis situations and really try to focus on preventing crisis services and having people more engaged in our routine care and outpatient services.”

A stated objective is to decrease community dependence on ineffective services and interventions, with a goal of decreasing walk-in admissions to the Mission Health emergency department by 35 percent in three years.

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Feutz said RHA serves about 800 clients a month with their current service array and hopes to meet the needs of hundreds more within the community without having to resort to emergency services.

Smoky Mountain CEO Brian Ingraham stressed that the facility is intended to meet the needs of the entire region, allowing “us to bring a wider and deeper array of services that we would not otherwise be able to do.”

The highest percentage of clients will be Buncombe County residents, but the facility will also address the needs of some of the most underserved counties in the state. For example, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Transylvania and Yancy are among the counties that have no psychiatrists.

The center will have a phased implementation. Outpatient services will begin on July 1; the community pharmacy will open the same day. All services are projected to be in operation by January 2016. The NAMI services are already available.

NC Health News

North Carolina Health News is an independent, not-for-profit, statewide news organization dedicated to covering health care in North Carolina employing the highest journalistic standards of fairness, accuracy and extensive research. NCHN seeks to become the premiere source for health reporting in North Carolina. Visit NCHN at northcarolinahealthnews.org.

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