With the growing mental health crisis across the United States, representatives from area agencies have come together and are creating plan to solve this growing problem for Cullman County. Nationally, the suicide rate increased 22 percent between 2005 and 2015. In Cullman County, the suicide rate doubled in 2017 with 25 recorded suicides.

“As state and private psychiatric hospital beds have closed, the need for such care has been steadily increasing,” said Neal Morrison, Advisory Group Leader.

In 2014, there were 88 commitments from Cullman County to psychiatric facilities. In 2017, this number more tripled to 265. Over the past 5 years, Cullman County has seen several high profile incidents involving community members with mental illness including several stand-offs with local law enforcement including Frank Kane, 52, who died when he ignited the Catoma Lane house where he had lived with his mother; and most recently the senseless murder of prominent Cullman attorney Steve Griffith who was shot to death at his Vinemont home by an intruder who lawmen say was mentally ill and had been obsessed with the victim for more than a decade.

“We are already making progress, and have valuable commitments from several of our local partners,” Morrison said.

Some of the programs already in place:

  • Mental Health First Aid training for local law enforcement: This training will be conducted by WellStone (formerly Cullman Mental Health) with materials being provided courtesy of Probate Judge Tammy Brown.
  • WellStone will be temporarily waiving all self-pay fees for addiction treatment in order to remove any barriers for those seeking help.

“The committee has outlined a three-phase plan to help create a long-term, sustainable solution,” Chris Van Dyke, Wellstone Chief Operations Officer said.

Phase 1 – Address the current crisis in the Cullman Regional Emergency Department
Due to the dramatic rise in the number of people needing inpatient care has created a crisis in local emergency departments, including Cullman Regional, which are required to provide medical clearance in order to admit patients to scarce psychiatric hospital beds. Patients routinely wait days and sometimes weeks in the emergency department as they await and search for an open psychiatric bed.

Phase 2 – Improve funding for wrap around crisis services and address statewide barriers to care
Often times, patients receive inpatient treatment and are able to return to society; however, without continuous care and programs, they frequently return back to the Emergency Department for treatment which begins the cycle over again. This phase seeks to create and or grow outpatient day programs and outreach workers who can follow people with a history of mental health illness and intervene prior to a crisis situation.

Phase 3 – Open a freestanding mental health crisis center in Cullman County
After successfully completing phase one and two, the committee believes the creation of a freestanding crisis center to provide triage and crisis treatment for adults and families with mental health or addiction crisis is the best long-term solution. The committee has reviewed several models from around the United States, and believes this will alleviate the pressure on both hospitals and local law enforcement in dealing with individuals or families in crisis.

The Mental Health Advisory Committee consists of the following:

  • Cullman Regional Medical Center representatives
  • WellStone (formerly Cullman Mental Health) representatives
  • Judge Greg Nicholas
  • Judge Tammy Brown
  • The Sanctuary at the Woodlands representatives
  • Judge Kim Chaney
  • Judge Martha Williams
  • Judge Rusty Turner
  • Cullman County Sheriff Department representatives
  • Brooks Place – Child Advocacy Center of Cullman representatives
  • Cullman County Juvenile Probation representatives
  • Cullman County School representatives
  • Cullman City School representatives
  • Cullman County DHR representatives
  • Cullman County District Attorney

“We have big plans, but it will require all of us working together, toward the same goal in order to make this work,” Judge Tammy Brown, Cullman County Probate Court said.

For more information on the Advisory committee or how you can get involved, contact any of the local partners or contact advisory leader Neal Morrison at (256) 339-6555. If you would like to make a donation to help support this cause, click here.