Sunday, May 19, 2024

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County’s new behavior health center nears completion in Burlington

Contractors are wrapping up work on a much-anticipated facility in Burlington that promises to revolutionize the services available to residents of Alamance County who struggle with mental illness and drug addiction.

Officially known as the Alamance Behavioral Health Center, this multi-million dollar edifice at 971 Kirkpatrick Road has been a priority for Alamance County’s leaders ever since they gave a local builder the all-clear to press ahead with this project in the summer of 2022.

The construction of this new center has been equally crucial to representatives of Vaya Health, a regional consortium that administers publicly-funded mental health services throughout much of the Piedmont. It was therefore an occasion for much fanfare last Monday when two of the consortium’s executives appeared before Alamance County’s board of commissioners to announce the facility’s impending completion.

The status of this project seemed particularly pleasing to Donald Reuss, a vice president with Vaya who has served as the consortium’s point man on this endeavor.

Vaya’s Donald Reuss

“This center is coming along; it’s really shaping up. The outside is looking great. . . and the downstairs of the main facility is completely finished. . .

“I’m glad to say that the state has awarded us a $4.6 million grant for Alamance County, and that will take care of some of the additional costs that were going into the facility. . .

“We’re going to reimburse Vaya so the county doesn’t have to. Y’all will get into this facility with zero county dollars…and you will have one of the best facilities in North Carolina, if not on the East Coast, at a really great cost point.”

– Vaya vice president Donald Reuss

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“This center is coming along; it’s really shaping up,” Reuss crowed in his briefing to the county’s governing board. “The outside is looking great…and the downstairs of the main facility is completely finished.”

The county’s decision to erect this new center was, itself, the culmination of a decade-long effort to offer appropriate treatment to people whose mental health issues might’ve otherwise landed them in Alamance County’s jail. Yet, the plans for this so-called “diversion center” remained exceedingly modest in scope until an infusion of federal pandemic relief provided the county’s board of commissioners with the startup capital for a much more ambitious facility.

By the time the commissioners signed off on this facility in 2022, a rudimentary diversion center was already up and running in Burlington as an adjunct to a crisis center that one of Vaya’s predecessors had set up along Anne Elizabeth Drive. This bare-bones operation nevertheless paled in comparison to what the commissioners envisioned for Kirkpatrick Road, where they had authorized Chad Porterfield of ChadCo Construction to build a $15 million facility with crisis services for both adults and children, an on-site pharmacy, and an in-patient wing with 16 hospital beds for people in need of overnight care.

In addition to these medical functions, the new behavioral health center will also house various other services to help patients find their way back to normality. Laurie Whitson, a colleague of Reuss who was also on hand for Monday’s update, declared that the center will ultimately provide easy access to everything from housing, vocational rehab, public health, and social services. What’s more, she informed the commissioners that the moment when these services are available is already in sight.

“It’s been 18 months,” she said in reference to the length of the building’s construction, “and we’re moving…I’m here to say that inspections will begin next week for our certificate of compliance.”

Whitson added that, if all goes according to plan, furniture will be moved into the new building on May 15 and 16. Meanwhile, patients with follow up appointments at Anne Elizabeth Drive will begin to visit the new facility in roughly two weeks, with a formal grand opening slated to take place at 9:00 a.m. on June 19.

In the midst of the preparations for this transfer of services, Reuss informed the commissioners that he has recently received some good news from the state about the facility’s funding.

Prior to this development, Reuss and his colleagues had been increasingly anxious about the rapidly escalating cost of the center’s construction. Last fall, Reuss notified the commissioners that inflationary pressures had added some $1.2 million to the building’s overall price. He went on to warn them that, in all likelihood, this trend will force the county to go out-of-pocket to make up the shortfall, in spite of his initial assurances that Vaya would cover the entire bill for the project with funds it already receives from the county and various other sources.

Reuss struck an entirely different tone last Monday as he acknowledged that the state has agreed to offset the facility’s cost with funds it has received from the federal government as part of its ongoing expansion of the Medicaid program.

“I’m glad to say that the state has awarded us a $4.6 million grant for Alamance County,” he added, “and that will take care of some of the additional costs that were going into the facility.”

Reuss went on to note that this state allocation will be all but subsumed by the shortfall, which he acknowledged was closer to $3 million than to the $1.2 million he had attributed merely to cost increases. In any case, he insisted that the largesse from Raleigh will relieve the county of any responsibility for these expenses.

“We’re going to reimburse Vaya so the county doesn’t have to,” he told the commissioners. “Y’all will get into this facility with zero county dollars…and you will have one of the best facilities in North Carolina, if not on the East Coast, at a really great cost point.”

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