Tennessee officials say they are committed to replacing the 61-year-old mental hospital in Moccasin Bend with a larger, more modern treatment facility to help meet the growing mental health needs in the 52 counties the state facility serves.
But it has not yet been decided where to build the new 200-bed state mental hospital in Chattanooga.
In his budget plan, Governor Bill Lee proposed using a portion of the state’s share of US federal bailout funds to build a $276.5 million mental health hospital in what would be one of the state’s largest-ever state-building investments in Chattanooga.
Tennessee previously rebuilt similar mental health hospitals in Memphis and Bolivar, but in Chattanooga at the invitation of Mayor Tim Kelly and local lawmakers, the state agreed to consider alternative sites.
“We think there may be a more cost-effective way to do this, but we haven’t decided yet on the final way we’re going to do it,” Maria Williams, Tennessee’s commissioner for mental health and substance abuse, told reporters Friday after a meeting with the legislature. . and mental health leaders.
The City of Chattanooga has proposed three different sites for the construction of a new mental health hospital and has offered to partner with the state in a leaseback arrangement to reduce the costs of building and operating such a facility. The city offered a 12-acre plot adjacent to the city’s wellness center on 11th Street as well as proposed the former Buster Brown facility at 2001 N. Chamberlain Ave. It is located next to some of the city properties owned by Grace Media at 1511 Citico Ave.
Suggested locations are closest to major hospitals and medical facilities in Chattanooga and located along public transportation routes. The relocation of the psychiatric hospital will also free up the historic riverfront property to help complete the Moccasin Bend National Historic District.
The new mental health hospital will expand the number of beds from 165 to 200 and provide more and safer spaces for assessment and treatment of different mental health groups.
Williams said the state’s previous steps away from institutionalizing many mental health patients have helped, but that the number of people with mental health problems of all kinds continues to grow.
“This is amazing [new hospital) is much needed,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton said after touring Moccasin Bend on Friday. “We have a mental health crisis in America and we need to have more capacity and a better operational unit.”
During the pandemic, Williams said reported instances of substance abuse, anxiety and depression rose 45%.
“I’ve been in the Legislature for eight years talking about the need to deal with Moccasin Bend, and I’m excited that at this point I really think we’re making progress to make a meaningful change that will impact the lives of people in these counties,” state Rep. Patsy Hazlewood said Friday.
Hazlewood, the chair of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee, said she is still undecided on the best location for the new hospital.
“If we can go somewhere else for less cost for the taxpayers, that would certainly go a long way in our decision making,” Hazlewood said.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.