CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — It’s either jail or the emergency room. Right now, these are the only two options Orange County officials have when someone calls 911 during a mental health crisis.
County leaders are hoping to model their potential crisis diversion center off a Wake County’s WakeBrook, which is run by UNC Health.
UNC officials told CBS 17 about half of the people who come into the facility come in via law enforcement or EMS as an alternative place for them to get help.
That’s why Orange County leaders say they need one, too.
“Most of the times, a police officer is not the right answer to those calls. But what we know, is we’re the ones who get the call at three in the morning,” explained Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue.
And there are quite a few calls.
Deputy County Manager Travis Myren told CBS 17 they estimate they receive about 400 911 calls a month that could be referred to a crisis diversion center, if they had one.
“To have a location and a resource where we know someone could get some support, is vitally important in our community,” added Blue.
He said he sees the trickle-down effect.
“We’ve had a few incidents in Chapel Hill where some folks are in desperate need, and because our system has some gaps, these folks are still out on our streets,” said Blue. “[They’re] interacting with people and sometimes having negative encounters with folks, strictly because we don’t always have a place to take them.”
Blue is one of the local leaders pushing to create a crisis diversion center.
“A facility like this would allow us to take the jail off of the table, unless it’s necessary, and take the pressure off of the emergency rooms,” he added.
Blue told CBS 17 over the past 12 months, Chapel Hill Police have had 176 mental commitments, 95 involuntary commitments, and 26 emergency commitments. He believes some of these could be diverted to a facility in the future.
For most of those calls, he said there were at least two officers who were out of service, trying to help each situation. If the facility is built, the diversion would free up officers, allowing them to return to police duties.
Staff at the center would also get people the help they need, for a long-term solution to a growing mental health probably in the community.
“What would make this service unique is that there’s detailed discharge planning,” explained Myren. “So someone, as they’re leaving the facility, has a very straightforward and clear way to access services.”
“When someone is experiencing crisis, getting them support and stabilization as quickly as you can is to everyone’s advantage,” added Blue. “Every moment that’s delayed, the potential for something bad to happen is real.”
Officials have been working on the idea of the center since 2019, but now they’re really trying to get things in order.
Leaders are looking at architect and service provider proposals so they can find a site, find funding and start helping people.