A budget agreement reached by state legislators includes one item that’s absolutely delighting elected officials and health providers in Guilford County.  The budget calls for $7.7 million in state funding for the coming new Guilford County mental health crisis facility.

The proposed final budget is expected to be approved by the legislature this week – though it could then face a veto by NC Governor Roy Cooper.

Late last year, Guilford County, Cone Health and Sandhills Center – an administrative entity that oversees mental health care in the county – announced that they were joining together to implement a radical new mental health care model in Guilford County.

Part of that plan calls for the county to build a new mental health facility estimated to cost over $15 million – and local officials desperately wanted some state help with that project.  Guilford County Commissioner Jeff Phillips, a primary architect of the plan to overhaul mental health care, is known to have been working the state legislators hard this year to convince them to help fund the project.

Phillips stated in a text this week that he is “praying like a wild man” that the $7.7 million makes it through the remainder of the state budget process and added that he is hopeful those legislators will do “the right thing for Guilford County citizens.”

The county, Cone and Sandhills included state officials in their extensive discussions that led up to the major overhaul of the county’s mental health operations; and state leaders are hoping that the effort being pioneered by Guilford County will be successful and can be emulated elsewhere across the state since mental health and substance abuse issues are such a major problem.

The collective worked with the NC Department of Health and Human Services when it came to assembling the deal that will result in the construction of two new mental health centers in Greensboro, a total transfer of the county’s mental health service care to Cone Health, the opening of the county’s first adolescent crisis care facility and the establishment of a new 24-hour crisis center for mental health patients – staffed with psychiatrists and other specialists equipped to handle such cases.

The coming change in Guilford County is expected to improve overcrowding in emergency rooms and create a single portal of entry for mental health and substance abuse cases. The system is meant to be a best-practices state-of-the-art model that will address all aspects of a mental patient’s needs – both physical and mental.  It’s also designed to get the three partners working together as a whole with a united focus on getting the patient well.  The model is in part a response to the highly criticized “siloed” pockets of mental health care that have been the rule in Guilford County and across North Carolina in the past.

Phillips told the Rhino Times last year when the new program was announced that the new facility will “actually begin to address some of the front-end needs around the opioid crisis like I don’t think we have in existence today.”

He also said at that time that state officials were impressed by how much time, effort and thought that the county, Cone and Sandhills had put into the new mental health care initiative before presenting it to the state.  He said the reception of Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services, was extremely positive.

“They were pretty much blown away by our integration of physical and mental health care under one roof along with the local collaboration that had been underway to get us to that point,” Phillips said.  “We had done our homework and had been working together.  It was a powerful combination.”

Apparently, many state legislators who are now willing to help fund the project agree as well.