Polk debates new location for mental health services

Published 1:13 pm Friday, September 10, 2010

Along with having some disagreements regarding a new department of social services (DSS) building, Polk commissioners may also be split on where to house mental health services.

Commissioners discussed Monday the possibility of using planned vacant offices in the new DSS building to house mental health offices.

But majority members Cindy Walker, Ray Gasperson and Rene McDermott say they are exploring another building in Columbus to house mental health services. McDermott said Monday that the building in Columbus could be available before the DSS building construction is complete.

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Commissioner Tommy Melton suggested that since the DSS building will have seven vacant offices, the county should consider housing mental health services there.

Commissioner McDermott asked why the idea wasnt brought up while the county was designing the DSS building.

I agree with (the county manager) to have some of those offices for mental health. It makes a lot of sense, McDermott said. What I dont understand is why this wasnt brought up before. First Melton says we need to downsize (the DSS building), now he says we need to upsize. I think were being whipsawed.

Melton asked Melissa Tambini of Family Preservation Services and Jim Van Hecke of the Polk Wellness Center to make presentations Monday.

Tambini discussed what Family Preservation Services offers to Polk County, but said her organization does not have a position on a building.

Van Hecke sent a letter saying no representative was available to come to the meeting and that the coalitions goal is to be close to St. Lukes Hospital. He said the Polk Wellness Center does not want to move to the new DSS building, but would take an office there to allow some clients to be closer to home.

Grading has begun for a new DSS building on county-owned property at the recreation park in Mill Spring. Commissioners are attempting to get all services out of the aging Jervey Palmer building in Tryon. Mental health services, which uses nine offices there, will be the only service left in the Jervey Palmer building once DSS has moved to the new building.

Another issue that keeps arising regarding where to house mental health is a state law that prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools. Some residents have expressed concern regarding mental health services being near school and park property, but the exact restrictions are not yet clear.