State, local officials announce $1.5M mental health facility

Published 2:12 am Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Alabama Department of Mental Health on Tuesday broke ground on a $1.5 million secure forensics facility in Andalusia.

South Central Alabama Mental Health will manage the 16-bed facility, which is expected to create 25 jobs. 

The Covington County Commission partnered with  South Central Alabama Mental Health and the Alabama Department of Mental Health to locate the facility in Andalusia. Commissioners purchased the property, five acres adjacent to the county admin building, for $60,000 in December. 

When the commission purchased the land, it discussed the project only in closed session, and referred to it as an “economic development project.”

Joining members of the county commission for the announcement were Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioners Lynn Beshear; Assistant Commissioner Diane Baugher; South Central Alabama Mental Health director Tommy Wright; Butler County Probate Judge Steve Norman, who chairs the SCAMH board; and Sen. Jimmy Holley.

Related story: Circuit judge opposes facility

Gov. Kay Ivey originally was expected to attend, but her scheduled was changed last week.

Baugher, an Andalusian who led  SCAMH before joining the state department, told the audience the facility will treat three different types of people. 

“It will treat the forensic patient in maybe three different ways,” Baugher said.

Baugher said those sent to the Department of Mental Health to determine their competency to stand trial could be evaluated in the facility; those in a mental health residential setting who need to be stabilized in order to return to their living arrangements; or those who need “competency restoration.”

“On average, this is going to be about a six-month stay,” Baugher said. “This is a short-term facility. This is not for someone who is going to come and stay for two or three years.”

South Central Alabama Mental Health will manage the facility, Wright said. Baugher said the 25 employees will include a part-time psychiatrist or psychologist, nurses, mental health workers, and educators. This is only the second facility of its kind in Alabama, Baugher said, adding that a similar North Alabama facility seems to be working well.

“The facility will be unique in many ways,” Wright said. “We will share a common mission with several other facilities across the state. We will provide psychiatric, like we do everyday, all day. Not only will we provide psychiatric treatment, but we will provide an educational program designed to help consumers who become competent to stand trial. We will also provide the Department of Mental Health with an additional location to perform competency evaluations. It will be a secure, locked facility, designed with public safety in mind.”

Officials said that the facility should be open by September.