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CARE Center.jpg
La Crosse County CARE Center staff members Gena Lewison (left) and Samantha Merry move patient

Much of La Crosse County’s new mental health crisis center and detox facility remained empty space Tuesday, just days before an open house. 

The CARE Center is expected to offer eight beds for those in mental health crises or needing nonmedical alcohol detoxification.

Each bedroom had two beds — and not much else.

A sprinkler system was installed, and workers were putting the finishing touches on an emergency call system.

But the middle of the building — to be a living room area — was empty, carpeted space. The same was true of what soon would be staff offices, a room for a registered nurse and a separate county-run outpatient clinic.

By afternoon, staff members started bringing in chairs and other furniture — gifts from Gundersen Lutheran, Franciscan Skemp Health-care and Independent Living Resources Inc.

County officials sought the center because of the high number of mental health detentions in La Crosse — 7,000 a year, more than what Madison sees.

Even though La Crosse has a high number of what are known as Chapter 51 mental health detentions, at least 80 percent of those detained are released within a few days, County Human Services Director Jerry Huber has said.

The county first established a mental health mobile crisis team, but that failed to bring down the number of detentions.

The center will be run by Tellurian UCAN, a Madison-based agency that provides mental health and substance abuse services throughout southern Wisconsin.

Care Center Program Director Vicki Riley has spent 20 years with Monroe County’s community support program for people with mental health issues.

She said La Crosse County’s efforts impressed her.

“I’ve watched this happen for the last year and a half and felt that it was very proactive and that the community had really wrapped its arms around this,” she said.

Law enforcement officers and county mobile crisis team workers will determine when the CARE Center is appropriate for mental health crises, she said.

Intoxicated people would be taken by police to one of the two hospitals, which would have to medically clear the person to be sent to the CARE Center.

CARE Center staff would bring the person to the center, where they would be checked every 15 to 30 minutes for 12 to 24 hours, Riley said.

“After that, we would try to help them with assessments, give them information about alcohol and connect them to resources that they need, and then help them get back to the community in a healthy, safe way,” she said.

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