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New mental health crisis center to open in WNC

Mental health advocates from across the region gathered last week for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at The Caiyalynn Burrell Child Crisis Center, a new mental health facilities for youth in Asheville. Donated photo Mental health advocates from across the region gathered last week for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at The Caiyalynn Burrell Child Crisis Center, a new mental health facilities for youth in Asheville. Donated photo

A new mental health facility in Asheville is set to open this summer to serve children and teens in Western North Carolina dealing with a mental health crisis and addiction. 

While increasing rates of children and teens becoming addicted to drugs and/or dealing with mental illness, WNC and North Carolina as a whole has a severe shortage of behavioral health beds for youth. This shortage leads to children and teens waiting for days in an emergency room for a bed to open up — and even then that bed could be on the other side of the state, hours away from their family and support network.

 The Caiyalynn Burrell Child Crisis Center, a 16-bed facility-based crisis and detox program, will be the only program of its kind in the region and only the second statewide, and will hopefully relieve some of the wait times for youth in crisis. The facility will serve children and teens in need of stabilization services and 24-hour supervision due to a mental health crisis, substance use or withdrawal from drugs or alcohol. It will also provide crisis care to young people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony held June 21, Kody Kinsley, interim senior director of Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services, called the new center a “beacon of hope.”

“We know that 20 percent of kids in the United States have a mental health condition, many of whom are never diagnosed,” he said. “Facilities like this can make a difference.”

Healthcare provider Family Preservation Services of North Carolina (FPS of NC) will operate the facility, with guidance from Vaya. Carson Ojamaa, FPS of NC interim state director, said planning for the center had been underway for more than three years.

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“Our mission has always has been, and continues to be, very simple — to help children and teens find a way to make meaning of, and grow from, a crisis experience — whether that be dangerous intoxication, self-harm, ideation or an attempt at taking one’s life,” she said. “As they say a lot in this field, crisis is an opportunity for change. We worked hard to create an environment, and a program, that holds this belief close to heart.”

The project was funded through a $1 million grant to Vaya Health, a regional managed care organization, through the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Crisis Solutions Initiative. The initiative aims to improve crisis care while reducing avoidable visits to the emergency department and involvement in the criminal justice system. 

The center is named in memory of Caiyalynn Burrell, a 12-year-old Asheville girl who died in 2014 after taking a lethal amount of medication. Her family believes she accidentally overdosed in a “cry for help” due to bullying at school and on social media.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony, center Director Pam Coppedge read aloud remarks from the family of Caiyalynn, whose middle name was Hope.

“This is a facility that Caiyalynn would have been very proud of and honored to have her name attached to — a place that will help other children that may have lost hope,” her family said. “… We all knew that Caiyalynn would do amazing things in life, and she did. Now she also gets to do them in the afterlife, as well. The Caiyalynn Burrell Child Crisis Center has already become a place of hope for the community that it will serve.”

The center is scheduled to open this summer. It is located at 277 Biltmore Avenue in the space formerly occupied by the Neil Dobbins Center, a crisis center for adults that is now located at C3356 Comprehensive Care Center. Both the child crisis center and the new Neil Dobbins facility were established as part of Vaya’s multi-year Community Reinvestment Initiative to expand and enhance services throughout the region.

“The child crisis center is such an important alternative to the emergency department,” said Vaya CEO Brian Ingraham. “It’s a place focused on the needs of children, with specially trained staff and a supportive, caring environment designed to comfort young people in crisis.”

As part of a collaborative effort, Mission Health, Buncombe County and nearly 100 community agencies, organizations, businesses and individuals across 23 western N.C. counties worked with FPS of NC and Vaya to establish the center.

The cost of treatment will be covered by Medicaid or North Carolina Health Choice for children covered under those plans. Additionally, the center will work with private insurers and other funding options to serve children in need of treatment, including children with no insurance.

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