And so it begins.

That is, on Thursday morning, Oct. 10, Guilford County government, Cone Health and Sandhills Center Inc. put shovels in the ground in the first step of what many consider to be the most important project Guilford County has undertaken in decades – the creation of a brand new state of the art, best practices, mental health center that’s meant to establish a totally new paradigm of mental health care delivery in the county.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held in the spot of the center’s future home: a vacant lot on Third Street that’s within a stone’s throw of Guilford County’s Health and Human Services building in Greensboro. That’s no accident; the new mental health center – which will be a campus-style area with a building for adult care and one for the care of children with mental challenges, as well as a 24-hour intake area for those in crisis – will be tightly integrated with other county services that are often needed by those who are mentally ill.

At the groundbreaking – which featured a large earthmoving machine, a small model of the facilities, artist’s renderings, Krispy Kreme doughnuts and coffee – Commissioner Jeff Phillips spoke on the importance and significance of the day.

The effort to create the new mental health center was undertaken by many key players – from Cone officials to the Sandhills executive team to Guilford County staff and commissioners; but the project is in large part the result of the vision of Phillips who worked painstakingly behind the scenes for years to help corral the major players.

“I have to say my heart is full this morning,” Phillips said, “full of joy, full of gratitude and thanksgiving.”

He reeled off the names of many of the people who played an instrumental role in the creation of the new mental health center.

“We worked for more than two years and dreamed for multiple years about this project, and, today, World Mental Health Day 2019 interestingly enough, is an historic day, a new page really in the advancement of behavioral health services in Guilford County and our region.”

Phillips said an “awesome team of community leaders and elected officials” had come together to make the dream a reality.

He added that there were a lot of obstacles along the way, but now, hopefully, in 15 months the doors will be ready to open.

Some of the others who played key roles in the process were Cone Health CEO Terry Akin and Debbie Cunningham, the head of Cone’s behavioral services, and Guilford County Commissioner Kay Cashion, who sits on the Sandhills Board of Directors.

Sandhills, the management group that oversees the administration of health care in Guilford and other counties, is also playing a major role in the collaboration.

Akin, who started his health care career working as a mental health technician, said he was humbled each day to work with thousands of highly talented and professional healthcare givers.

Akin said he knows that work in mental health can be “especially challenging and especially meaningful.”

He added that mental health is tightly tied to physical health.

“This is one of the best days I’ve had in a long time – it really is,” he said.

According to Akin, the “unprecedented level of partnership “ at a time of “dire circumstances” has truly been remarkable.

“This is going to have a huge impact on the citizens of our community,” Akin said.