FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — When the NWA Crisis Stabilization Unit had its ribbon-cutting ceremony June 15, Gov. Asa Hutchinson praised it as a clear-cut benefit to the area. More than a month later, Washington Co. officials held a press conference to address confusion from city attorneys and the public.
“We have had some calls, concerns regarding our activities at the Northwest Arkansas CSU, and I wanted to make sure I addressed some of those, in particular some of the misinformation that’s out there,” said Judge Joseph Wood of Washington Co.
The main concern was voiced by Kit Williams, Fayetteville’s city attorney, in a letter sent to county attorney Brian Lester on Thursday morning. He was concerned about the financial aspects of the unit’s maintenance, which originally were accounted for in a daily $40 intake fee for each admitted person. When a county or city sends someone for stabilization, that entity is responsible for the cost.
Wood and Lester announced the fee would be dismissed until January 20, 2020, so cities’ officials can prepare their budgets.
“If we’re going to go to taxpayers and ask them to subsidize this, we need to know how the money is being distributed,” Williams said. “The state is paying some costs now, but eventually it’ll expect the community to support the unit, which is reasonable.”
Wood also cleared up the rumor going around that indicated the CSU wasn’t yet treating patients even though it had its ceremony more than a month ago. He said people have been treated, which was confirmed by a Ozark Guidance employee working in the unit.
“It all lays at the weight and the shoulders of our law enforcement officers,” Wood said. “We’re encouraging our law enforcement officers and mayors to use the facility.”
But to this point, potential patients are being diverted to other facilities like Vantage Point because information about the facility hasn’t become operationally standardized, according to a high-ranking employee within the unit who did not wish to be identified.
“That’s something we’ll have to talk about with officers and say, ‘hey, why isn’t this happening yet?'” Lester said. “I was not aware of that information, but that’s something we’ll have to look into.”
Part of the reason for confusion concerning referrals is due to the fact that the CSU didn’t open the day of the ceremony. The final state certification was June 30, Lester said, and operations didn’t begin until that was completed. He said it was a faster start than units in Pulaski and Sebastian Counties, which opened at least a month after their respective ceremonies.
“Everybody, we all talked about how we really wanted it to be open the day of the ceremony,” Lester said. “Sometimes, things just don’t work out…especially with all the checks and certifications. It just wasn’t possible.”
In 2017, Wood appointed a 15-person committee to oversee the CSU. The group is made up of administrators and officials from Washington, Benton, Carroll and Madison Counties. Police chiefs, public defenders and a community representative for mental health are included.
Lester said the committee continues to make decisions that improve and tailor the unit to meet the area’s needs.
“In the Sebastian Co. Unit, there’s an area where officers place their weapons in a lock box when they drop someone off,” Lester said. “One of our police chiefs said he wasn’t comfortable with that, so we didn’t put that in our facility. They weren’t comfortable being in that type of situation without their weapon.”
Of the crisis intervention trained officers in the state, more than 200 are located in Northwest Arkansas. These officers are responsible for making the decision to divert someone to the unit instead of jail when they deduce a person’s mental illness caused them to commit a certain low-level crime. While the state allows for a person to stay in the facility for a maximum of 96 hours, Lester said CSU workers want to stabilize the person and release him or her in 72 hours or less.
Since the 24-hour facility is voluntary, a patient can leave whenever he or she wishes. But if they haven’t met the requirement set by administrators to avoid jail time, Lester said law enforcement is notified.