Jeremy Blair’s vision became a reality on Monday.
The CEO of Wellstone Behavioral Health in Huntsville has long recognized the need for emergency care for those experiencing mental health crises and has advocated for years a system of crisis centers across Alabama to meet that need.
On Monday, Blair welcomed Gov. Kay Ivey and Mental Health Commissioner Kim Boswell to the Wellstone campus to cut the ribbon at a facility that might once have seemed unreachable.
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It is a $10 million facility located north of the Wellstone campus on Memorial Parkway and Golf Road in Huntsville. It includes 16 beds with a capacity of up to 24 beds and, Blair said, offers a reasonable alternative to the former dismal prison or hospital emergency room options.
Addressing the crowd at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Ivey pointed to former Gov. Lurleen Wallace, who led the initial efforts to treat Alabama’s mental health care system. Since then, however, those efforts have largely fallen into oblivion, Ivey said.
“It’s been put on hold for far too long in the last three decades,” the governor said.
With funding provided by lawmakers, crisis centers in Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile are open or will soon be open alongside the Huntsville site – which will not accept patients for several weeks despite the ribbon cutting on Monday.
Lawmakers have also provided money to build facilities in Tuscaloosa and Dothan.
In Huntsville, Wellstone received $5 million. The remaining $5 million will be raised through donations and local government funding.
“I have no doubt that this center will change lives for the better,” Ivey said.
The event brought together seven state legislators and two mayors, in addition to the governor and state commissioner of mental health. And a theme that ran through the event was that mental health should be just as important as physical health.
“Mental health is just as important as physical health,” said House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville. “There is no difference.”
Events like Mondays and facilities like the Crisis Center go a long way in breaking down negative stigmas surrounding mental health, Blair said.
“I think Governor Ivey being here today speaks volumes,” Blair said. “And as Leader Ledbetter said, we can no longer separate mental and physical health because they are one and the same. If we neglect our mental health, we will end up neglecting our physical health. We need to understand and realize this better. I think more and more people are realizing that it’s okay not to be okay. And they seek that help.”
Blair also said Wellstone plans to break ground on a 24-bed pediatric wing next spring.
“Madison County doesn’t currently have cribs,” Blair said. “And so you can think about the impact that families can make in this space.”