Straughn fights halfway house

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 17, 2002

Residents of the Straughn and Rose Hill areas are fighting a proposed group home facility for discharged mentally ill patients that is planned their community.

Several spoke about the possibility of the Shady Acres Residential Care Facility being opened in the area.

Officials that were present were Speaker of the House, Seth Hammett, Senator Jimmy Holley, Greg White, Probate Judge Sherrie Phillips, Sheriff Anthony Clark, Johnny Castleberry, Brag Carter, and John Clark, president of the Covington County School Board.

Speaker Hammett spoke and presented two letters that he had written, one to Kathy Sawyer, Mental Health Commissioner and one to Gov. Siegelman, which also contained a copy of the letter to Commissioner Sawyer.

Robert Foreman, a resident of the Straughn community spoke on behalf of the those who signed the petition circulating throughout the community that has almost 1000 signatures.

According to Speaker Hammett's letter, the location of the facility is a considerable distance from law enforcement, as well as fire and medical personnel who can respond in case of an incident. Straughn School is within walking distance and a day care is next door to the facility. The residents that live near the facility have expressed fears of having mentally ill patients that close without any restrictions or boundaries, such as fences.

Dr. Levaughn Odom was not present at the meeting, but a woman representing him read what the functions and regulations of the facility would be if it were to open.

According to the woman, Shady Acres Residential Care Facility, Inc. is a private, non-profit organization owned and operated for those from 18 to 64 years old, already living in the community. The facility will meet federal and state laws and the Alabama Department of Mental Health standards. The residents of the facility will provide persons with basic needs, a comfortable sleeping area, private bathrooms, and three balanced meals, seven days a week. Rooms for smoking and non-smoking, a visiting room, laundry room, and recreational room will be provided. There will be transportation for the patients in emergencies as well as leisure time. There will be two registered nurses and one will be there 24 hours a day. The facility will be staffed 24 hours a day by professionals trained in the mental health field.

Odom's representative said he has had a Master's Degree in Nursing for 30 years and has gotten his Doctorate degree. The couple that is helping Odom have nursing and mental health experience.

The residents present at the meeting proposed actions that could be made to keep the house from being opened either as a boarding house or a half-way house for discharged mentally ill patients. Some suggestions were: zoning, passing laws to require boarding houses have regulations, and taking the people to court.

Speaker Hammett said that he will be find out if a legislation that was passed two years ago will help in this situation and if not then he will help pass something that will regulate it.

"We can make a compelling reason why this is not a good condition, not just for this community, which is obvious, but it's also not right for those patients to come out here and not have the fire protection, the police protection, access to health care and the other things that were mentioned in the Speaker's letters," said Senator Holley.

Holley said that there should be set standards for locating such facilities and that he fully supports the community in not allowing the home in the community.

Probate Judge Sherrie Phillips is a member of the South Central Alabama Mental Health Board. She said that there has been no petition placed with them to open the Shady Acres Residential Care Facility and that they filed directly with the State to get certification. The application was sent back because it was not complete, according to Judge Phillips.

"When or if it (the application) is (resubmitted), I promise to do everything that I can to make sure this application is denied," said Speaker Hammett.