Mental health facility opens in downtown Chattanooga

Mental health facility opens in downtown Chattanooga

September 5th, 2013 by Kate Harrison Belz in Local Regional News

The Mental Health Cooperative building is seen at 801 Holtzclaw Ave., Suite 101.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

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• Mental Health Cooperative serves eligible people ages 3 and up from Hamilton, Bledsoe, Bradley, Marion, Meigs, Rhea and Sequatchie counties at 801 N. Holtzclaw Ave., Suite 101.

• Services include short and long-term care for clients who are usually struggling with acute and persistent mental illnesses.

• MHC accepts all TennCare plans and those eligible for the Behavioral Health Safety Net (uninsured adults/poverty-level income).

• Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Walk-ins also are welcome.

• For more information, visit www.mhc-tn.org.

Hundreds of people with mental illness end up in local hospitals or jails simply because they don't have access to basic care. Hoping to reduce those numbers, a new outpatient mental health facility has opened in downtown Chattanooga to serve those within a seven-county radius.

The Mental Health Cooperative of Middle Tennessee opened doors at its Holtzclaw Avenue location Tuesday.

The MHC, a Nashville-based nonprofit, provides psychiatric and psychological services to people with the fewest resources: Those on TennCare, or those without insurance.

Melissa Wilson, the Chattanooga facility's director, said MHC began eyeing an expansion to Chattanooga after several East Tennessee families approached the organization about the need for another alternative for mental health services in the area.

"So far, people have been very supportive and very interested in what we do," Wilson said. "We know that mental health services are needed everywhere in our community."

Founded in 1993, the MHC says it has assisted nearly 20,000 children, adults and families annually in throughout Middle Tennessee counties. The Chattanooga facility its is first venture into East Tennessee.

Sylvia Phillips, president of the Chattanooga chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said she is still learning about the facility and what it offers, but is excited to hear about its arrival.

"We are very happy to see another in-town service for our loved ones," she said.

Rodney Battles, president of the AIM Center -- which helps those with mental illness transition from clinical services to community integration through job training and housing programs -- said the center will be adding MHC to the list of providers it currently works with.

"We welcome the opportunity to serve more individuals with the addition of Mental Health Cooperative as we have seen in the past with expanded services offered by Joe Johnson Mental Health Center and Fortwood Center," Battles said in a statement.

The organization touts a holistic, community-based model that incorporates counseling and psychotherapy, psychiatric evaluation and medication, and intensive case-management.

The local agency is staffed with two full-time psychiatrists for both adults and children, along with counselors, nurses and three case managers.

The case managers are essential to MHC's model, which pairs each client with a manager as soon as they start services. The case manager then works to connect individuals and their families to practical resources like transportation and housing, and wade through complex issues like eligibility benefits and financial support.

A children's case manager also assists with school meetings and behavior management.

"We assess the total individual, not just their mental health," MHC's Chief Executive Officer and Founder Pam Womack said in a statement. "This approach consistently reduces the burden on psychiatric hospitals, emergency rooms and jails. We look forward to seeing similar results in Chattanooga."

The outpatient facility provides many of its services on location; case managers also visit clients' homes.

Case management services are on call for emergencies 24 hours a day.

"Part of our mission is to be available whenever we need to be available," Wilson said.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.