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Jeremy Blair’s vision became reality on Monday.
The CEO of Wellstone Behavioral Health in Huntsville has long seen the need for emergency care for those enduring mental health crises and lobbied for years for a system of crisis centers throughout 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 outside a facility that perhaps seemed, at one time, out of reach.
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It’s a $10 million facility located just north of the Wellstone campus at Memorial Parkway and Golf Road in Huntsville. It includes 16 beds with the capacity to grow to 24 beds and offers what Blair has said is an appropriate alternative to the previous bleak options of jail or the hospital emergency department.
In addressing the crowd at the ribbon cutting ceremony, Ivey pointed to former Gov. Lurleen Wallace for leading the initial effort to address mental health care in Alabama. Since then, though, Ivey said those efforts had been largely forgotten.
“Throughout the past three decades, it’s been placed on the backburner way too long,” the governor said.
With funding made available by the state legislature, crisis centers are open or soon will be in Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile in addition to the Huntsville location – which, despite Monday’s ribbon cutting, won’t formally be taking patients for several weeks.
The legislature has also set aside money to help build facilities in Tuscaloosa and Dothan.
In Huntsville, Wellstone received $5 million. The remaining $5 million is being solicited through donations and local government funding.
“I have no doubt 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 the state mental health commissioner. And a theme running through the event was that mental health should be considered as important as physical health.
“Mental health is just as important as physical health,” House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville said. “There is no difference.”
Events such as Mondays and facilities such as the crisis center goes far in helping to destroying negative stigmas about addressing mental health, Blair said.
“I think Gov. Ivey being here today speaks volumes,” Blair said. “And as Leader Ledbetter discussed, we can no longer separate mental health care and physical health because there’s so one and the same. When we neglect our mental health, eventually, we’re going to neglect our physical health. We’ve got to do a better job of understanding and realizing that. I think more and more people are realizing that it’s OK to not be OK. And they are seeking that help.”
Blair also said Wellstone plans to break ground next spring on a pediatric wing that will include 24 beds.
“Madison County currently has zero pediatric beds,” Blair said. “And so you can think about the impact that’s going to be able to provide to the families in this area.”
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