State health officials have barred Mecklenburg Countys Substance Abuse Services Center from taking in patients who dont consent to alcohol or substance abuse treatment, a concern for judges who order 150 to 200 involuntarily committed patients a year to get help at the center.
For more than 20 years, state health officials allowed the center on Billingsley Road in Charlotte to provide social setting detoxification for involuntary patients, Mecklenburg General Manager Michelle Lancaster explained in an email to commissioners Monday.
The services, Lancaster said, were provided without incident.
She and other officials dont know when the center would be allowed to treat involuntary patients again.
The center continues to treat patients who enter voluntarily.
Chief District Judge Lisa Bell first told county commissioners about the change at a Monday breakfast meeting between the county board and state lawmakers in the Mecklenburg County delegation.
Change came as a surprise
Lancaster said she first knew of the change Dec. 20, when officials from Presbyterian Hospital called inquiring about the center no longer taking involuntary commitments.
That also was the first time Bell knew about the change, when Presbyterian called her.
This is very serious in that even though this is a relatively small number of people we currently dont have a place to commit alcohol and substance abusers, Bell said.
We came to rely on the center, where we knew they would get good treatment.
Bell said shes been involuntary committing to the detox center since she was first elected in 1998.
Now all of sudden were told, Oh, you cant do that anymore, Bell said. Theres no time to prepare (an) alternative plan.
Earlier this month, Bell said, the mother of a woman with a prolonged history of alcohol abuse tried to commit her daughter for treatment after the daughter became violent when she was drunk.
There was no place to put her.
Police officers, Bell said, have put patients in patrol cars and driven around for six hours until they were sober.
Julie Henry, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said late Monday that Mecklenburg can send involuntary patients to the Julian F. Keith Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center in Black Mountain.
Its good they have a fallback until the matter is resolved at the Mecklenburg center, Henry said.
Lancaster said in 2010 the state required providers with at least 16 beds to reapply for the authority to treat involuntary patients.
Mecklenburg County did, but last year state Health and Human Services officials wrote the county that the 76-bed facility was no longer approved for involuntary commitments.
The state said the center would need a place to train nurses and staffers to restrain and seclude potentially violent patients. It would also need guards to keep people against their will, Henry said.
The DHHS letter said the county needed to reapply for the services, Lancaster said.
It will be delivered to DHHS (Tuesday), and all indications from DHHS is that they will respond swiftly with a decision, Lancaster said.
Commission Chairwoman Pat Cotham said the issue was another example of county staff not keeping commissioners updated on serious matters.
If Judge Bell had not had the courage to tell us, none of us would have known, Cotham said.