Commissioner Marie Williams speaks during ribbon cutting about the importance of the facility to Knoxville and the state. In the background is Jerry Vagnier, President and CEO of Helen Ross McNabb Center. Photo by Vivian Shipe

By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — It was a ribbon cutting like no other. A bipartisan collaborative effort, ten years in the making.

Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Marie Williams traveled from Nashville to speak during the event that was well attended by state and local legislature. Mayors Tim Burchett and Madeline Rogero, and Reverend George Doebler also spoke to the more than 100 members of the community in attendance.

Bipartisan and community leadership who worked together to open the facility celebrate as they cut the ribbon and prepare to tour the facility. Photo submitted

The Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center, formerly known as the Safety Center, opened its doors Monday March 19th. It is a facility dedicated to emptying the jail of the roughly 25 percent of inmates who are mentally ill and to divert people with addictions from the revolving door of arrest, jail, and life on the streets. The sixteen bed facility will be under the direction the Helen Ross McNabb Center and will offer 23 hour observation with a stay up to three days before directing the people to further treatment programs, medical stabilization, or reunion with family.

The success of this flagship project in Tennessee is unique as it took the combined efforts of both parties, leadership on the state and local levels, buy in by the  District Attorney, Knoxville Police and Knox County Sheriffs, nonprofits, and local citizens; all who worked tirelessly over the years to overcome barriers of funding, community concerns and making sure best practices would be used.