Details are now coming out fast regarding what mental health care in Guilford County will look like after a new partnership between Guilford County, Cone Health and Sandhills Center is in place – and so are answers to the all important question, “Hey, who’s going to pay for this shiny new mental health care system?”

The focal point of the operation will be on Third Street in Greensboro – not far from Cone Hospital and very near the county’s social services operations on Maple Street – and it will consist of a mental health urgent care center and two 16-bed facility-based crisis centers: one for adults, the other for adolescents and children.

County officials and others are very careful to refer to the site as a “mental health complex” rather than a “mental health campus” because “campus” implies a single entity is operating both – and complex federal regulations (that several people said off the record were “crazy”), prevents one entity from running both centers.  Therefore, Cone will run the adult care facility, and Sandhills Center, the management entity that administers Guilford County’s mental health services, will run the center that cares for children and adolescents.

At the “complex,” both centers will provide round the clock comprehensive behavioral health services seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year.

Debbie Cunningham, the senior vice president of Behavioral Health Services for Cone Health, said the design of the buildings will optimize them for efficiency and also said that the new mental health delivery system will “serve as a new model of care for others in our state and beyond.”

Cunningham added that there could actually be three new buildings – with one an entry point that assigns patients to the two care centers when he or she needs to be admitted.  However, Guilford County Commissioner Jeff Phillips said the cost of building three structures rather than two was clearly a concern.  He said that, in the discussions, he’d heard some suggestion that three buildings might even be less expensive than two – but he added that he had doubts whether a three-building model could in the end be less expensive.

That issue will likely be left up to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners since the county will cover the design and construction costs of the adult crisis facility while Cone will be the service provider.  In mid-November, the Board of Commissioners voted to hire an architectural firm to begin preliminary design work on a $14.5 million mental health building, but the new structure is estimated to cost $20 million.  Since the NC Dept. of Health and Human Services is strongly supportive of the move, wants Guilford County’s system to be successful and become a model that can be emulated across the state, there’s hope that the state, along with other potential funding sources, will help Guilford County cover some of the cost.

Sandhills Center, a management entity in West End that administers services in Guilford County and in eight other central North Carolina counties, is paying the design and construction costs for the planned child/adolescent crisis center, which is expected to be between 12,000 and 15,000 square feet and have an estimated cost of $8 million.

Some of the funding will come from a Medicaid waiver program meant help provide services to people who, without that care, would likely be in an institution, nursing home or hospital getting long-term care.

Sandhills Center CEO Victoria Whitt wrote in an email, “Sandhills Center’s Board of Directors has reserved funding to construct the Child/Adolescent Facility Based Crisis Facility.  Preliminary estimates indicate the facility will be between 12,000 and 15,000 square feet.  The Sandhills Center funding for the project comes from savings from managing Medicaid services under the 1915 (b)/(c) waiver.  One of the benefits of Sandhills Center becoming a 1915 (b)/(c) waiver site for managing services was that we could reinvest savings back into our local communities.  This partnership and planned facility exemplifies that reinvestment in a visible way.”