BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Tuesday marked the grand opening of the Craig Crisis Care Center in Birmingham, a facility that health officials and lawmakers said will revolutionize mental health care in central Alabama.

The center will be open 24/7 year-round and is designed to help people suffering from a mental health or substance use crisis. According to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, 240 people are taken to jails in Jefferson County every month for mental illness or substance use.

“[Law enforcement can take mental health patients] to a local hospital emergency department, where they have to wait sometimes eight to 10 hours, they can take the person to jail, or they can leave them in the environment they’re in. None of those are great options. We want to be that great option,” said Jim Crego, executive director of JBS Mental Health Authority.

The Craig Crisis Care Center not only aims to stop jails and emergency rooms from getting filled with people who don’t need to be there but also seeks to get patients the help they need. The center is set to open to the public in the next few weeks.

“In Alabama, we are changing the conversation about mental health care,” said Commissioner Kimberly Boswell with the Alabama Department of Mental Health.

The facility features 32 temporary observation beds and 16 extended observation beds. It’s a safe and supportive space for families, first responders and others to bring those in the middle of a mental health crisis.

“This is a game-changer for all law enforcement,” said Sheriff Mark Pettway with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

Pettway said the center will be critical in helping officers save resources and get back to fighting crime.

“I’ve had family members that had situations of crisis. We want to make sure that they get treated fairly, and others get treated fairly. They just need help, we want to make sure they get help,” Pettway said.

Daniel Hargrove, a certified peer specialist at JBS Mental Health Authority, knows firsthand how important this work is.  

“The hardest part of being in a mental health crisis is being in a delusional state. I couldn’t differentiate reality from illusion … The last place on earth I wanted to be was at the ER,” Hargrove said.

Patients are sent home with services to keep them on a path to improvement so care doesn’t stop after their stay.

“I think it’s a huge step in the right direction for this community and for the state,” said Senator Jabo Waggoner, Alabama District 16.