When most people encounter a problem or injustice, they grumble about it and say someone ought to do something. That’s especially true if fixing it would require enormous effort.
Then there’s Bill Blue.
Blue and his wife, Betsy, didn’t just grumble when they discovered an appalling lack of mental health services in the Charlotte region. They did something about it.
They did a lot about it, actually: They created the HopeWay Foundation, raised $27 million, bought 13 acres in south Charlotte and established the only adult residential and day treatment center for people with mental illness in the Charlotte region. Until now, people who needed these services had to go to Baltimore or Atlanta or elsewhere to get them.
The Blues and about 300 supporters will celebrate Wednesday at the site on Sharon Road West. HopeWay expects to be serving its first clients in November. By early 2018, it will be serving close to 90 people at a time. Its primary focus will be on serving people suffering from anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorders and schizophrenia.
That’s a tremendous gift to a region that desperately needs it. Mental illness is far more common than some realize. Treatment for it has lagged. Only two of every five Americans with a mental health condition received treatment for it in the past year, advocates say.
Mecklenburg stood out as an especially bad desert, given its size. Psychiatrists met only 39 percent of the need here in 2012, compared with 96 percent of the need in Wake County that year, according to one study.
Bill Blue found that out the hard – and personal – way. A family member needed mental health treatment and could not get what was needed in Charlotte. Since then, Blue has been on a mission to help others in similar circumstances.
It took indefatigable passion and hard work. Blue knew little about the intricacies of building such a facility, but he educated himself and, with the help of a small, committed group, made it a reality relatively quickly.
The single biggest challenge? Stamina, he said, navigating regulatory requirements, recruiting a CEO and other leadership and seeing construction through to the end.
His work – and that of others key to the project – has paid off. The former charter school building has been overhauled into a premier mental health center. It has spaces for therapy driven by art, music, cooking, spirituality, recreation and gardening. It includes 36 welcoming single-occupancy rooms, reading nooks, common areas, dining and more. It will employ 13 therapists, three or four psychiatrists, a primary care physician, nurses and others.
HopeWay doesn’t entirely solve the Charlotte region’s mental health services challenge. In particular, people who are on Medicaid, are uninsured or have little savings will not be able to afford HopeWay and still lack sufficient alternatives.
But this marks a giant, overdue step forward for the many people in the Charlotte region suffering from mental illness. The Blues and everyone associated with the project deserve the community’s sincere thanks.