For several years, Sarpy County has been actively working to address two major issues: jail overcrowding and the growing mental health crisis, two intertwined problems.
With very few secure treatment facilities available in the area, people experiencing a mental health crises often end up in the county jail, which isn’t designed or equipped to meet their needs. These inmates tend to spend more time in jail and return more frequently, exacerbating the overcrowding issue.
Sarpy County has already taken a number of steps to address this issue, with the goal of finding treatment for people with mental illnesses, not incarcerating them. The county’s Mental Health Diversion program diverts people to treatment instead of toward punishment. The Mental Health Case Management program, recognized as a national leader by the National Criminal Justice Association, provides intensive supervision to those in custody or awaiting trial while also offering treatment referrals and help establishing independent living skills.
But officials recognize that more progress needs to be made. To lead this effort, Sarpy County formed a Mental Health Leadership Team with representatives from the Sarpy County Board of Commissioners, Sheriff’s Office, County Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, County Administration and Region 6 Behavioral Health.
The Leadership Team identified the need for a crisis stabilization center as a top priority. Following the team’s recommendation, on Tuesday, the County Board voted to purchase approximately six acres of land near Nebraska Medicine-Bellevue for the facility.
“This is the first step, but an important step, toward improving mental health care in Sarpy County,” said Sarpy County Board Chair Don Kelly. “There’s a definite need in Sarpy County, really the entire state, for a facility of this type. We’re prepared to lead this effort with the help of public and private partners from across the region.”
Though still in the preliminary design phase, the facility is expected to cost $10-$13 million to build, with projected operating costs between $2-$2.5 million a year.
“After years of recognizing the need for accessible mental health resources, I am excited Sarpy County is taking this concrete step toward establishing its own crisis stabilization center,” said Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov. “This center will allow law enforcement more time to focus on keeping our county safe, while providing citizens in crisis with a place to obtain mental health services and a connection to community resources. Moving forward with this project affirms our dedication to improving public safety and the justice system, and I am in full support of Sarpy County’s effort to address this growing need.”
The stabilization center will be available to all law enforcement agencies in the Region 6 service area.
“The Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office believes psychiatric emergencies are medical, not criminal, and persons in mental health crisis should be provided the proper care and services to avoid future contacts with law enforcement. Establishing a mental health crisis stabilization center would allow persons with a mental illness to receive proper treatment and avoid incarceration, furthering Sarpy County’s goal to decriminalize mental illness,” said Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis.
Sarpy County will use cash on hand to pay the $1,050,000-purchase price for the land located southeast of 25th Street and Highway 370.
“We knew this would take considerable investment, so we’ve been saving for both a mental health facility and a new jail.” Kelly said.
Commissioners are currently evaluating final sites for a jail. A decision is expected within the next 30 to 60 days.
To learn more about the site and mental health needs in Sarpy County, view the presentation given to the Sarpy County Mental Health Leadership Team.