Day program for mentally ill opens in St. Tammany

ST. TAMMANY PARISH, LA (WVUE) - It's the first part of a comprehensive mental health care program. It's the first phase of a mental health program professionals in the field say will save taxpayer dollars and save lives. On Friday, St. Tammany officials and program leaders unveiled the day program at Safe Haven. It comes after state and federal funding for behavioral health programs have decreased in recent years.

On a street with the same name, the campus is coming to life.

"It's truly something I think other parishes would be very jealous of," said Day Program Project Manager Tom Rowan.

On Friday parish officials joined program leaders gathered on the former site of the Southeast Louisiana Hospital - now home to the St. Tammany National Alliance for Mental Illness and a private mental hospital - to unveil the first phase of the Safe Haven initiative. It's described as a complete program for those suffering from mental illness and substance abuse.

"When those disorders are full blown, the message they give to the individual who is affected constantly is 'you are worthless,' and the message we want to give here, over and over and over, is just how valuable the individual is. And that's really the reason why we're here," Rowan explained.

The newly renovated NAMI St. Tammany Day Center will offer support, treatment, even life skills to those suffering from mental illness.

"A community with other people who are going through the same thing, as well as peer support specialists, people who are in recovery and have essentially walked a mile in their shoes," said St. Tammany Executive Counsel Kelly Rabalais.

It won't provide in-patient care, but program leaders say it will prevent people from using expensive resources that cost taxpayer dollars.

"We're going to keep people from inappropriately having to go to emergency rooms. We're going to keep people from having to go to jail who don't have to go to jail," Rowan said.

Rowan says those who utilize the program will have access to a hot meal, a change of clothes, a shower, even support for those looking to get a GED.

The program will not, however, offer medical or clinical oversight on a 24-hour basis.

"It's a safety net for individuals when they're getting out of hospitals or when they're coming out of their outpatient clinics and they don't have an appointment for another month or when they don't have the support of a loved one at home and they don't have a lot of structure time," explained Executive Director for NAMI St. Tammany Nick Richard.

NAMI officials say the program is especially important after the federal and state government decreased funding for behavioral health services in recent years.

They say it's why the Safe Haven initiative could become a model, not only for the state, but for the nation.

The services at Safe Haven are free. Program leaders say there will be more clinical offerings developed at Safe Haven down the line.

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