Committee asks county commissioners for $15 million to build substance use, mental health crisis center

Published 9:10 pm Tuesday, January 18, 2022

SALISBURY — A committee composed of community leaders asked the Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday afternoon for $15 million in federal relief funding to construct or purchase a building for the proposed Rowan County Detox and Facility-Based Crisis Center.

The 15-person crisis center planning committee is made up of elected officials such as Salisbury Mayor Karen Alexander, health care professionals such as Health Director Alyssa Harris and nonprofit leaders such as Rowan County United Way Executive Director Jenny Lee.

Six members of the committee presented their vision for the crisis center to commissioners during the board’s annual planning retreat. During the annual event, the board typically reviews its accomplishments over the past year, receives an update on the county’s finances and discusses future goals and projects such as the crisis center.

The proposed crisis center would provide inpatient and outpatient services to adolescents and adults suffering from substance use disorders and mental health illnesses. The center would be a place for patients to detox until they are stabilized and can be directed to resources and services.

“The overarching goal is to have a one-stop shop — a location where we can send individuals to and create a safety net that reduces costs associated with these two major areas,” Lee said.

The requested $15 million would come from the county’s share of American Rescue Plan Act funding. The county will receive about $27 million in ARPA funding and has already spent around $3.4 million. More than $1 million is already earmarked for other projects.

The center would be two buildings located close together — one would serve adolescents and the other adults. The center would be built or renovated using the $15 million from the county and operated by a selected health care service provider with oversight from a committee.

While a location for the center isn’t determined, Lee said it would ideally be located near the Novant Health Rowan Medical Center. Desiree Dunston, a planning committee member and senior director of professional and support services at Novant, said she would check with Novant’s leadership to determine if a piece of land owned by the medical center on Mocksville Avenue would be an option. The committee also plans to explore the idea of using an existing building that would only need to be purchased and renovated.

The idea of a crisis center has been percolating for several years. A 2018 community health and human service needs assessment conducted by the county and health care partners identified mental health, substance use disorder and healthy lifestyle behaviors as the county’s top health care priorities. In the years since that assessment was completed, the problems have only worsened.

Dr. Venkata Chivukula of Novant Health, a crisis center planning committee member, said the pandemic has led to increased rates of anxiety and depression, which resulted in more people using substances such as opioids and alcohol to cope with the additional stress.

In 2020, there were 626 overdoses and 36 fatalities resulting from substance use recorded by the Health Department in Rowan County. Those numbers increased in 2021 as the pandemic continued. There were 755 overdoses and 58 fatalities last year. Overdoses are now the leading cause of death among individuals 25-49 in Rowan County. The county is considered to be in the highest category for overdose deaths in the state, with a rate of 47.2 per 100,000, compared to the North Carolina average of 28.4 per 100,000.

“The pandemic has simply revved up the whole thing and we have people that were in recovery, because they were isolated and lost their job, many of those relapsed and that’s why we’re seeing the higher numbers right now,” said County Commissioner Judy Klusman, also a member of the crisis center planning committee.

Committee members told commissioners that substance use disorders contribute to financial and food insecurity as well as self-neglect or caretaker neglect of adults who are elderly and/or disabled. It can also impact children and youth entering foster care and cause difficulties in keeping youth in foster care safe.

Ideally, committee members say, the crisis center would divert people suffering from substance use disorders and mental health problems from the jail and hospital, where they might not receive proper care or would not be able to afford care.

The United Way in 2019 earmarked $100,000 for seed money for the detoxification facility. The committee is also seeking funding from the Salisbury City Council through the HOME-ARPA program. If those funds are granted, the committee would have almost $200,000 to hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study, a site assessment and a development plan for the center.

Commissioners Vice Chair Jim Greene expressed concern about the long-term sustainability of the facility.

“Nobody here is arguing at all about how these drug issues and alcohol, all these things have wreaked havoc amongst the county,” Greene said. “What we’re being asked, you’re saying to set aside $15 million and you don’t have a grant, you don’t have any numbers to give us or knowing how the (crisis center) is going to continue in the future.”

Klusman said the center would be funded through a public-private partnership and that the center would likely lean on local philanthropists.

“We’re going to look for partnerships all over, whether it’s federal grants or state money and our local folks,” Klusman said.

LaTanya Hardy, a committee member and the executive director of S&H Youth & Adult Services, said that managed care organizations have historically provided funding for facilities like the crisis center to sustain operations. ​​Managed care organizations are state-mandated Medicaid care providers that serve people with mental health needs, substance use disorders and/or intellectual and developmental disabilities. Vaya Health provides those services in Rowan County.

The goal of the center, Lee said, would be to serve any patient that needs help regardless of their income.

“We want to build and construct a facility that will not turn away anyone based on their ability to provide insurance or pay,” Lee said.

Commissioner Mike Caskey said the county board has a role to play in the crisis center, but he isn’t sure if that role is allocating $15 million in funding. Caskey said he would rather spend the $15 million to move the Rowan County Health Department and Department of Social Services to West End Plaza. Chair Greg Edds said the board will eventually have to respond to the committee’s request. No decision on the funding request was made during the retreat.

Lee said earlier in the presentation the planning committee would continue to push forward with its mission to establish the center regardless of approval of funding from the commissioners.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at

email author More by Ben