June 22, 2024

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New Washington County facility to offer shelter, aid for mental health, substance abuse

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Dozens of people gathered near the Washington County fairgrounds on Friday to break ground on a new receiving center that could help both local law enforcement and medical centers, according to state officials.

Among those that gathered at the event were the Washington County commissioners, several state lawmakers and police departments as well as Gov. Spencer Cox. The governor touted the new facility as important for southern Utah since this part of the state’s population is growing quickly and additional resources are needed to support that growth.

“It’s a big deal to have these anywhere,” Cox said. “To get it in southern Utah will make a huge difference in helping to keep people out of jail and keeping people out of our hospitals and getting them to care that they need.”

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Washington County Sheriff Nate Brooksby said the facility is definitely a “needs-driven” one since if someone is experiencing a mental health crisis or a substance abuse issue in southwest Utah there would only be two options for them: either go to jail or go to the hospital, according to Brooksby. He said this facility should take on a very important role in the community that was previously placed on the sheriff’s department.

“As a default, for years, the county jail has had to learn to deal with mental health consumers and those that might be detoxing,” Brooksby said.

Governor Spencer Cox and other local officials break ground at what will be the new Washington County Receiving Center Friday, March 18, 2022. The center will serve residents seeking mental health, substance, or situational help.

Governor Spencer Cox and other local officials break ground at what will be the new Washington County Receiving Center Friday, March 18, 2022. The center will serve residents seeking mental health, substance, or situational help.

Cox agreed with Brooksby’s assessment that the facility is a “missing piece” among government facilities and that without receiving centers like this law enforcement officers have had to fill the gaps of the state’s mental health care system.

“We’ve been asking our law enforcement officers to do things that is not their responsibility,” Cox said. “It’s not fair to their families, and it’s not the best thing for our society, and that’s why this is so important.”

The receiving center should be open around the clock to assist people and families going through a crisis, whether it be one relating to mental health, substance abuse or domestic circumstances. It will allow people facing those hard situations with a short-term place to stay where they can easily connect with professionals who can help, Cox said.

Cox said he hopes that adding more centers like this and supporting other new initiatives in the state could address the growing challenges of providing mental health care to residents in need. He says that would include things like Utah’s mobile crisis teams, which send out mental health professionals instead of law enforcement officers to certain calls for service.

The groundbreaking event was one of several events Cox attended in southern Utah on Friday. Earlier, he visited a pharmacy in Hurricane to highlight the work being done by local health care workers over the past two years.

Governor Spencer Cox meets with pharmacists Cliff Holt at Hurricane Family Pharmacy Friday, March 18, 2022.

Governor Spencer Cox meets with pharmacists Cliff Holt at Hurricane Family Pharmacy Friday, March 18, 2022.

The governor said that centers like these, which aren’t for people that commit serious crimes, can help reduce recidivism rates in the state by keeping people out of jail in the first place and help reduce suicide rates by connecting people struggling with those thoughts the care they need in a much more urgent way.

“Suicide is often a decision that is made very quickly,” he said. “And it can be worse if you end up in jail because of your mental health problems. Right, that just adds to the burden.”

Getting this facility to its development phase happened quickly. County Commissioner Gil Almquist said the county has only been doing work on this project for the past year-and-a-half, but the project is moving quickly because of the community’s need for it.

Governor Spencer Cox and other local officials break ground at what will be the new Washington County Receiving Center Friday, March 18, 2022. The center will serve residents seeking mental health, substance, or situational help.

Governor Spencer Cox and other local officials break ground at what will be the new Washington County Receiving Center Friday, March 18, 2022. The center will serve residents seeking mental health, substance, or situational help.

Almquist said that the design of the building is a critical aspect of its function. If a receiving center is built to look like a jail, people don’t want to be there, but if it’s designed in a more pleasing way, it will make it less daunting for residents.

One area of concern was staffing. According to a report from USA Facts, a majority of Utah’s population — 83.3% — lives in areas with shortages in mental health coverage. Cox said facilities like this help address that problem but acknowledged that it can be hard to find enough professionals to keep it fully staffed.

“We are always worried about staffing concerns,” he said. “We’re worried about staffing concerns in every industry, but certainly on the mental health side.”

The receiving center should finish construction in eight months, according to Brooksby.

Sean Hemmersmeier covers local government, growth and development in Southwestern Utah. Follow on Twitter @seanhemmers34. Our work depends on subscribers so if you want more coverage on these issues you can subscribe here: http://www.thespectrum.com/subscribe.

This article originally appeared on St. George Spectrum & Daily News: Officials break ground on new receiving center in Washington County

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