City of South Bend finalizes agreement with Oaklawn on funding of behavioral crisis center

Published: Jan. 3, 2023 at 2:35 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Plans to bring a behavioral crisis center to South Bend appear to be back on track.

Last month, the project suffered a major setback when a major funding partner dropped out. Now, the city of South Bend appears willing to go it alone.

“Before the county commissioners kind of pulled the rug out from under us in December, they were looking to have this operational by the middle of this year,” Mayor James Mueller told 16 News Now. “This is a critical service that we need in our community, and this is a no-brainer, and it enjoys support across the political spectrum.”

The original agreement called for St. Joseph County, and the City of South Bend to each contribute about $2.7 million in American Rescue Plan dollars to fund the crisis center.

The county first backed off that commitment at a meeting on Dec. 20, saying some officials had “unanswered questions.”

It’s the same day the St. Joseph County Health Officer Dr. Robert Einhertz handed in his resignation effective March 31 and complained that some members of the St. Joseph County Council were “openly hostile” to the health department.

On Tuesday, Mayor Mueller announced a new agreement with Oaklawn in which the city will provide $2.66 million to make needed building improvements and fund the first year of operations.

“Originally, the plan was the county was going to pay for the capital in the first year, and the city was going to come in and pay for years two and three. Obviously, given the commissioners’ decision last month to get some more answers to questions that they have, we switched the order,” said Mayor Mueller. “So, now the city is looking to do the capital year one, and hope that the county comes in for years two, and three, once they get their questions answered.”

Mayor Mueller also says that the state plans to make dollars available for mental health services in the coming years and that the South Bend crisis center would have a competitive advantage if it were already up and operating.

Last July, Dante Kittrell was suicidal and in mental crisis when he was shot and killed by South Bend Police.

“Right now, when they (police officers) encounter someone in a mental crisis, the options are either taking them to jail, or potentially the emergency room,” Mueller said. “Neither place is necessarily best equipped to deal and get help to these folks.”

Original Story: The City of South Bend has announced a funding agreement with Oaklawn that will establish and launch a 24/7 behavioral crisis center in South Bend.

The plan for the center was formed over the past two years in partnership with Oaklawn, the St. Joseph County Department of Health, Memorial Hospital (Beacon Health System), St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Office, Sound Bend Police Department, St. Joseph County Council, and the South Bend Common Council.

“After years of collaboration, I am glad our community is ready to establish a crisis center and fill in gaps in our mental health services,” said Mayor James Mueller in a press release sent out by the city on Tuesday morning. “This partnership between the city and Oaklawn provides the funding necessary for the buildout of the center and its initial operation costs. I am optimistic that additional funding partnerships with the county and state will sustain the crisis center and these critical mental health services beyond its initial years.”

The agreement provides $2.66 million for Oaklawn to invest in the Memorial Epworth building, establish the Behavioral Crisis Center, and fund the first year of its operations. These funds were included as part of the city’s American Rescue Plan distribution that passed the Common Council by a 7-2 vote on Oct. 11, 2021.

The County Council had appropriated matching funds unanimously as part of its American Rescue Plan distribution. Last month, the County Commissioners tabled an agreement with Oaklawn that would have provided the matching funds necessary for the establishment of the behavioral crisis center and three years of operations.

“We are honored to have the City’s support for this project as the next step in making the crisis center a reality,” said Oaklawn President & CEO Laurie Nafziger. “We are working diligently with county officials to answer all questions and wholeheartedly believe the crisis center is the next step in caring for the mental health needs of our communities.”

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