Dane County Executive Joe Parisi on Thursday announced the Huber Center on Madison’s South Side as the location for the county’s much-delayed mental health crisis center.
The county has approved $14.3 million in preparation for the facility, known as a Crisis Triage Center, whose location the County Board had originally wanted to identify in 2021.
Parisi didn’t provide an expected opening date for the facility, at 2120 Rimrock Road, but said using a building already in the county’s hands will hurry the process. The county’s next step will be to hire consultants to assess the facility and create a concept plan for its redevelopment, Parisi said.
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Parisi pointed out the center’s central location — near the Beltline and public transportation — will make it accessible to community members.
“The county executive and I are proud to stand in front of a building that was built in the 1980s for incarceration and now announce its transition into a Crisis Triage Center,” Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said. “This facility will divert those with mental health crisis from our criminal justice system and out of our jail population.”
The Huber facility had housed inmates eligible for work release. But since last fall those who would have been housed at the facility have been part of Barrett’s electronic monitoring program, according to a statement. The facility is currently used by sheriff’s deputies focusing on the electronic monitoring program, but those deputies would be moved to another location, Barrett said.
Officials have described the planned center as a “no wrong door” facility where patients can simply walk in and get treatment and recovery services. The center aims to keep those facing mental health challenges from getting entangled in the criminal justice system.
Long-standing gaps in Dane County’s mental health services prompted talks about building a crisis center. A 2019 behavioral health needs assessment found the county lacked a 24/7 facility, options for crisis response in rural areas beyond Madison and ways to divert people with mental health issues away from the criminal justice system.
Because Dane County doesn’t have a dedicated crisis center, residents who have to be involuntarily committed can be taken to Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh, a nearly two-hour drive.
There were initial calls for the center to open in 2023. But distractions related to the county jail’s proposed expansion and cancelled meetings prompted delays.
A subcommittee of the county’s Criminal Justice Council tasked with overseeing planning for the center canceled half of its monthly meetings between August 2021 and August 2022 due to lack of attendance.
And in the aftermath of demonstrations in the summer of 2020, competing plans to consolidate and expand the county’s jail facilities have taken up countless hours of officials’ time, even as the project remains stalled and unfunded.
The location announcement comes as Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in his State of the State address called 2023 the “year of mental health,” citing rising rates of suicide ideation and depression among youths. He requested spending $500 million to address mental health across Wisconsin, an amount Republicans appear unlikely to be willing to spend.
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