The best things in life may be free, but staffing and securing a brand new mental health services facility definitely is not.

The building that will be the centerpiece of a completely new mental health model for Guilford County government and its partners won’t be open until next year. However, on Monday, Feb. 24, the county commissioners were already talking about hiring a new director to oversee mental health.

The board also discussed the security needs of the coming mental health center and an adjacent building that will serve children with mental health issues.

At the Guilford County Board of Commissioners 2020 Retreat on Monday, Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing told the board that he will include the new mental health director position in the proposed 2020-2021 fiscal budget that he presents to the commissioners in May. The board is scheduled to adopt a final budget in June.

Lawing said at the retreat that, even though the new mental health campus won’t be open this year, it makes sense to go ahead and hire a director.

“There is some thought that, the sooner this person is brought on, the better,” Lawing said.

He said the new director will help oversee construction on the new county facility and work with State of North Carolina human services officials on licensing issues. He or she will also make sure that all of the diverse partners begin to work together as a cohesive unit.

“This is modeled somewhat after the Family Justice Center position,” Lawing said of mental health services and the new director position.

The county’s two Family Justice Centers – one in Greensboro, one in High Point – bring a wide variety of public and private entities together to help victims of spousal abuse, elder abuse and related crimes. Guilford County Family Justice Center Director Catherine Johnson oversees those operations.

The county will also provide security for the new mental health building and the adjacent building that will handle children with mental health issues. For obvious reasons given the nature of the service, security at both facilities will be important.

Lawing said security will be provided “24/7” and the plan now calls for five contracted security officers and five sworn officers. The sworn officers will be employed by the Sheriff’s Department.

Lawing said the “ballpark cost” figures for the security will be $400,000 to $450,000 a year. He did not give an estimate for the new director’s salary.

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips said that the importance of hiring the right director is obvious and also said it will be “very challenging” to find the right person.