Helen Ross McNabb submits proposal to operate center for Knox County Jail’s mentally ill

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Helen Ross McNabb Center has submitted a proposal to develop and manage a behavioral health urgent care center for low-risk offenders to get treatment for mental illness or substance abuse instead of putting them in jail

The Knox County Jail is operating at near capacity. Officials say 18 to 25 percent of the inmates in the Knox County Jail are severely and persistently mentally ill and might be better served in a facility that focuses on those needs.

Knox County makes around 4,000 arrests per year for public intoxication and fewer than 80 individual people account for 25 percent of those arrests, meaning they are being arrested multiple times each. Officials believe a Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center would reduce jail bed stays, increase treatment opportunities, create more efficient use of scarce community resources, and reduce reentry into the criminal justice system.

Knox County has budgeted $200,000 for the current fiscal year to go toward operational costs.

Related story: A Deeper Look: Knoxville’s mental health care after Lakeshore

The deadline for submitting a proposal, which were all sealed submissions, was Tuesday. The county was looking for a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a minimum of 10 years experience in community mental health and the ability to provide a building large enough for a 72-hour jail diversion program and a 72-hour crisis stabilization unit. The program is expected to have eight to 10 beds initially, but take in up to 4,000 people yearly.

Web Extra: Read the proposal guidelines / Addenda

The proposal(s) will be evaluated by a committee before a recommendation is made to Mayor Tim Burchett. That is expected to take up to 30 days.

Jerry Vagnier, Helen Ross McNabb Center president and CEO, issued this statement:

As a long-time provider of behavioral health services in the region, the Helen Ross McNabb Center knows first-hand that a diversion service for East Tennesseans is merited.  The center’s clinical leadership believes individuals with a mental health or substance abuse disorder can be cared for in a better manner than incarceration or emergency room utilization.  Other communities in our nation have piloted behavioral health diversion programs with documented success, and we would like to see the City of Knoxville and Knox County benefit from a similar model.  As a clinical expert delivering effective evidence-based treatment for adults with behavioral health disorders, HRMC is prepared to assist metro government leaders as they begin the process of addressing this concern in our community.

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