Douglas County board hoping to create new facility dedicated to mental health services

Phase one of the potential plan to bring a new facility to the county has wrapped up.
County commissioners are hoping to create a new mental health treatment facility in Douglas County.
Published: Aug. 29, 2022 at 10:55 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Douglas County Board of Commissioners is hoping to create a new mental health treatment facility in the county and is seeking public input on the potential plans.

“Mental health is an issue, it comes up all the time in our discussions and for those who we provide services to,” says Mary Ann Borgeson, the chair of the county board.

Borgeson says the board has been dedicated to addressing the mental health issue that plagues the community and that now is the perfect time to take the services provided in the county one step further, as $55 million in ARPA funding has been allocated to Douglas County.

The funding has given the board a chance to take another deep dive into mental health services locally.

“What do we see in the populations and in the services that we provide, how do we make them better for those that we’re serving?”

Studies are currently being conducted to determine the feasibility of creating a separate mental health facility.

“I don’t know that I want to say separate, as much as I want to say appropriate,” Borgeson says.

Right now, there are two places where mental health services are provided in Douglas County—the first is at the Douglas County Health Center, which is actually a nursing home.

The fifth floor of the building is used as a mental health facility.

“The nursing home is actually where people live, that’s their residence, so how can we move that facility somewhere else so again that facility becomes more of their home rather than a service area,” Borgeson says.

The only other place where mental health services are provided is at the Douglas County Jail.

“I believe this and the board believes this, that nobody should have to be in jail to get mental health services,” she says.

“None of the jail has been designed to house people with acute mental illness, yet half of the footprint of the most recent addition of the jail is all housing people with serious mental illness,” said Michael Myers at the August 2 Board of Commissioners meeting while discussing the topic.

In 2015, Borgeson helped bring the “Stepping Up” initiative to Douglas County. Its focus is to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. She says the opportunity to create some sort of facility to help address this problem is one they can’t pass up.

“Folks who are in the jail, sometimes what brought them there was their mental illness through some act,” she says. “I’m not saying they should not have to answer for whatever crime it was that they committed, but in a lot a lot of cases, their mental health wasn’t addressed and so that’s what happened.”

Borgeson, and a press release from the board, say phase one of the potential plan to bring a new facility to the county has wrapped up.

“We were focusing on having staff tell us what are we doing currently and what do you see in the future, where we could collaborate and cooperate way better than we are right now,” she says. “With the goal of removing individuals with mental illness into a facility that’s a mental health facility, for their treatment.”

Phase two will look at if the facility could be one new building, two new buildings, an addition to the Douglas County Jail, a renovated building, or even no building at all.

The board will host four town hall meetings to show the results of the studies from phase one and to gather community input on a potential facility.

Borgeson says she’s excited that steps are being taken to further address the need for services in the community and is hopeful that the entire plan will come to fruition.