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Douglas County closer to building new mental health facilities in 'amazing opportunity'

Posted at 7:04 PM, Jun 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-08 20:04:13-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — You hear it all the time, mental health is health and the number of folks seeking it is steadily rising.

And that's a good thing of course but in Douglas County, the facilities aren't up to par and the Douglas County Board just might be changing that.

"So it's not going to answer all of the problems of all the mental health issues in our county but will focus on the two areas on which we have responsibility,” said Douglas County Board Chair Mary Ann Borgeson.

Borgeson has been on the board for over 25 years. She says it's been a problem for decades.

Right now, county public services are at the Douglas County Health Center which also has several floors dedicated to a nursing home.

"You want to serve people better and so move that out of our nursing home and into a facility of its own,” said Borgeson.

But far too often, Borgeson says hundreds of people needing help are sent to jail.

Corrections Director Mike Myers says 200 to 300 of its 1,000-plus jail population need mental health care and the jail isn't an ideal spot as it has a finite amount of space and resources.

"So we do our best to sort of square peg, round hole our mental health services to a facility that was not designed for it,” said Myers.

Tuesday the board heard a variety of proposals and the board still needs to give it the green light and decide on expanding jail mental health and community facilities. Plus, possibly the biggest decision is if it's best to combine them.

The question of combining the community and corrections mental health facilities could lead to a lively debate.

Commissioner Jim Cavanaugh seemed to be skeptical about putting them together, saying there’s a stigma of sending somebody to get mental health care that doubles as a place people are in custody.

But Borgeson told 3 News Now she favors the efficiency of having it all under one roof. The Board and the consultant aiding in the process said they’d study if other communities do it that way.

As to where the facility could potentially go, the Douglas County Youth Center is moving downtown and its campus could be available among other spots in Omaha.

Borgeson also mentioned potentially extending the current jail and building a facility around that.

While cost estimates range from $28 to $59 million. Borgeson says people who need help would greatly benefit.

"Yes, it's better for the county. It's better for the staff. It's better for the people that we're supposed to be serving,” said Borgeson.

The county would use federal money from the American Rescue Plan something Borgeson calls an "amazing opportunity."

Borgeson says she’s giving the board about a month to dive into the details of the complex proposal and then bring it back up and start making some decisions.

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