Licking County crisis center to offer mental health, addiction services

Licking County’s three-year Community Health Improvement Plan includes building one of the state’s few crisis stabilization centers for people experiencing a mental health or addiction crisis.

Kate St. James, president and CEO of Behavioral Healthcare Partners of Central Ohio, said property in western Licking County is being purchased to build a 50,000-square-foot facility open around the clock to serve those in need.

A capital campaign seeks to raise up to $30,000 from private and corporate donors, state and federal government earmarks and a partnership with a health care provider. The center could be open in two or three years, she said.

“We’re excited to bring it to the community,” St. James said. “This is such a new concept, particularly for the state. It’s the right care at the right time and in the right place.

“There’s so much recognition that behavioral health is really important. We’ve seen such a surge in behavioral health emergencies.”

St. James said they’ve signed a letter of intent to purchase the land and there have been initial discussions with an architect. The location will be off Ohio 161, not far from Granville, between Johnstown and Pataskala, she said.

Ohio only has about four such centers, St. James said, and two are under construction.

The average length of stay at the center will be about 12 hours, as most emergencies can be stabilized in 24 hours, she said. Some, however, will need more acute care and could stay overnight, and even 3-5 days.

The center, with about 50 employees, will serve both youths and adults, with youths in acute care divided by gender.

Behavioral health a focal point of Licking County’s Community Health Improvement Plan

The Licking County Community Health Improvement Committee, which includes 24 member organizations, identified three health priorities in the 2023-2026 Community Health Improvement Plan. Behavioral health was the top priority, followed by access to care, and health and wellness.

“It covers a three-year cycle strategic plan for the county to look at the most prominent health issues. We don’t want to waste time and resources on what’s not a problem,” Licking County Health Commissioner Chad Brown said.

Behavioral health goals include:

  • Increase the number screened for anxiety, depression and substance misuse.
  • Remove barriers to care.
  • Develop a trauma-informed community.
  • Decrease accidental overdose deaths.
  • Provide timely access to services.

“Members of the (committee) voiced concerns regarding the current behavioral health resources and stressed the importance of addressing this area comprehensively,” the plan states.

“The inclusion of behavioral health as a focal point in the CHIP reflects a committed approach to fostering a supportive environment for mental health, reducing the stigma associated with behavioral health issues, and establishing robust services and programs that cater to the varied behavioral health needs within the community,” according to the plan.

One of the objectives stated in the plan is to hire a community navigator to help people get the care they need.

Kay Spergel, executive director of the Mental Health & Recovery Board for Licking and Knox Counties, explained the importance of the new position:

“They’ll help assist them find the service,” Spergel said. “When an individual has a behavioral healthcare need and needs assistance to find a service to address those concerns, that can be confusing, particularly if you’re in crisis.

“It’s more than saying ‘Here’s a phone number,’ but (rather) having somebody work with you to make sense of a complicated system when you’re in crisis.”

The access to care priority includes the following objectives:

  • Increase the number of Licking Countians enrolled in Medicaid by 5%.
  • At least 70% of those enrolled in Medicaid visit a primary care provider at least once annually.
  • Provide at least 90 free mammograms to those in need of screening.

The committee acknowledged that barriers to accessing care exist, which can lead to delayed or foregone medical treatment, exacerbating health issues:

“By incorporating access to care as a pivotal area of focus in the CHIP, the intent is to identify and mitigate these barriers, whether they be financial, geographical, or cultural, to facilitate easier access to healthcare services.

“This focus also aligns with the broader goal of enhancing healthcare equity and ensuring that every community member, regardless of their socio-economic status, can obtain the necessary medical care.”

St. James said providing transportation to the center is “still being worked out, but is something we are talking about.”

The health and wellness priority includes the following goals:

  • Address food insecurity for youth in Licking County.
  • Reduce late-stage diagnosis of colorectal cancer.
  • Decrease youth vaping rates.
  • Assist caregivers providing quality care to cancer patients in home settings.


Twitter: @kmallett1958

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