Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center opening in Knoxville friday

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - Some low level offenders will soon have the option of receiving treatment instead of jail time in Knox County through the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center.

The facility, designed to help people arrested for non-violent misdemeanor offenses address their behavioral health issues instead of making them spend time behind bars. 

People who qualify to be housed in the center commit low-level crimes, such as public intoxication, trespassing, or obstructing a sidewalk.

It will offer around 16 beds, giving patients access to counseling, peer groups, and treatment programs. Then once they leave after a couple of days, health professionals will put them on a plan to continue their progress. 

"We want to stop that revolving door of incarceration of the mentally ill," Leann Human-Hilliard, Helen Ross McNabb Center regional vice president of clinical services, said. "These are people in the community right now who would have a low-level misdemeanor charge and the officer believes they have a mental health or substance abuse issue that could benefit from treatment in lieu of jail."

It's a project that has been long in the making, made possible by the support of state and local leaders.

"We're very excited," Human-Hilliard said. "We've been working on this project for over 10 years. There's many individuals who have really come together to make this a reality for us."

Knox County currently has round 1,400 inmates serving time in jail, with between 18 and 25 percent of those people battling a major mental health issue.

Human-Hilliard said a jail cell is not the place for these people, and this new facility will help not only address their behavioral health needs, but also help lower the local incarceration rate. 

"I think we know that treatment is possible for people who have mental illness or a substance abuse issue and we know that jail is not necessarily the answer for that," Human-Hilliard said. "The quicker we can get them to the professionals who can meet their needs, I think we can save money to the county through reducing that jail diversion bed and having them served here."

The facility will begin welcoming patients March 19. 

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