KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tuesday night, the Knoxville City Council will vote on whether to move forward with an agreement with Knox County to build a new, 16-room, $4.5 million behavioral health facility. It would be located in one of the old St. Mary’s Hospital buildings, near the future Public Safety Complex.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said this would be a first-of-its-kind center, combining urgent care and behavioral health in one location.

“We’ll call this a diversion away from the traditional model, where folks go to the emergency room and get the care that way for behavioral health issues because what’s happening is that’s really causing some issues with our emergency rooms and our hospitals,” said Mayor Jacobs. He also said it would help law enforcement officers.

He said at the proposed behavioral health facility, patients could use it as a short-term solution for their needs while they are in crisis. Then, experts can assist those patients in finding a longer-term solution, fitting their needs properly.

Mayor Jacobs said there is a growing need for spaces like the one proposed. “Up to 20% of the overall population, and of course, this is not just here, but nationwide, has some sort of chronic mental health issues or long-term mental health issue,” he began. “That’s been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic, I was told actually the other day it was maybe double that now.”

Mayor Jacobs also talked about how the $4.5 million would be paid. “That’s going to be split between the City and the County and we will use our American Rescue Plan dollars for that, our ARPA money, that’s on the county’s side,” said Jacobs. “We’ve also asked the state to help and they seem very interested.” He explained in the end this would save the state money. He also said area hospitals have agreed to allocate some money toward the cause.

Knox County Commissioner Courtney Durrett weighed in after the Knox County Commission gave unanimous approval for the proposal to move to the consent agenda Monday night. She said this will benefit the North Knoxville community because there’s been a gap in service ever since St. Mary’s shut down.

“That did leave a large hole, literally and figuratively, in the community,” Durrett began. “So with this new behavioral health facility, it is also bringing with it urgent care.”

Fellow Knox County Commissioner Randy Smith also commented. “As our society has shown with the pandemic, the need for mental health services has greatly increased,” said Smith. “I just think it’s a really good concept that the City and the County are coming together to provide these opportunities to the general population.”

The CEO of the McNabb Center, Jerry Vagnier, also emailed WATE 6 On Your Side a statement, supporting the idea.

“Access to quality behavioral healthcare services is a great need for our community and we continue to see that need grow. The proposed project would bring these psychiatric services, along with a traditional urgent care, to North Knoxville and would fill a gap in the community that was left when Tennova Hospital closed. This new facility will add access to mental health services during non-traditional hours. The McNabb Center is proud to partner with the City and County on this initiative and we are fortunate to have local leaders who focus on addressing mental health needs.”

Jerry Vagnier, CEO of the McNabb Center

The Public Relations Coordinator of Covenant Health also commented on the growing need for services across the community.

“Our area has a continuing and growing need for behavioral services. Covenant Health offers behavioral services through Peninsula, and recently began offering tele-psychiatry services in our hospital emergency departments for patients who have mental health needs. We also have a new behavioral health hospital under construction in West Knoxville in partnership with Acadia Healthcare. Covenant Health is supporting the city/county proposal’s for a new urgent care and behavioral health center in a North Knoxville area where services are much-needed. This new facility is a public/private partnership supported by Knox County, the City of Knoxville and all area healthcare providers, including UT Medical Center, Tennova and Helen Ross McNabb.”

Rachel Dellinger, Public Relations Coordinator of Covenant Health

With the Knox County Commission already in agreement, Knoxville City Council will vote at Tuesday night’s meeting. If approved, it would take approximately two years to be completed.

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