Knox County commissioners approve behavioral health center contract

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Knox County Commissioners vote to approve the Behavioral Health Center, 10-1, Monday night, during the commission meeting.

In a 10-1 vote, commissioners approved a contract with Helen Ross McNabb Center to operate Knox County’s new behavioral health urgent care center. Commissioner Smith was the only one voting against the proposed project. The lease agreement for the site is at 3343 Dewine Road near Western Avenue, which is next to Helen Ross McNabb’s Centerpoint Campus.

The center would be a place, other than jail, to take people experiencing a mental health crisis. It would include expert help and a chance to connect with more long-term care.

“I’ve looked closely at Helen Ross McNabb and what they have done and I am comfortable they are going to do what they said,” said Bob Thomas, Knox County Commissioner

Commissioner Thomas said he did not make his decision lightly. He felt this, rather than jail time, was the best option.

“We spend a million dollars a year just transporting people to the jail,” said Commissioner Thomas.

Some residents at the meeting were against the Commissioner’s decision. Ray Wolfe lives near the proposed site. He said he does not approve of it primarily because of its location.

“We are going to have people in there that are drug users. Where is the person getting drugs going to be? Sitting outside waiting for them to get out,” said Wolfe.

Representatives of Helen Ross McNabb said security shouldn’t be a concern. They said one officer will be there at all times.

“You’ve got one police officer there for 16 people. He can’t keep up with them,” Wolfe said.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett tried to ease concerns. He said the people coming to this facility are non-violent offenders.

“They’re not cattle and they’re not animals,” said Mayor Burchett.  “They are our neighbors.”

Wolfe said he and other residents are not giving up. He said they plan to form a committee and continue to fight this.

The location is a former church at 3343 Dewine Road, a former church adjacent to the Helen Ross McNabb Center. The MPC agreed to recommend that Knoxville City Council approve the location, on the condition that the main entrance be moved to Ball Camp Pike, moving the center further away from homes in the area.

Community members gathered at a meeting last week to discuss the proposed center, many of whom disapproved.

Knoxville City Council will now look at the project and decide whether or not to approve it. Mayor Burchett said the behavioral health center plans to open within a year.

Previous story: Knoxville community concerned over proposed safety center

Funding for the center is coming from grant money lawmakers say is in Governor Bill Haslam’s budget.

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