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Mental health services see spike in demand as hospitals close

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BATON ROUGE - The growing mental health crisis in the Baton Rouge area was highlighted with the ongoing demolition of the Greenwell Springs Mental Hospital, and alternate services are struggling to keep up with the demand.

Joyce Louis and Debra Kennedy are sisters who run an organization they call Shekinak Glory, located in the 3600 block of Government Street. It's a non-profit where they help and house people battling mental illness.

"Our office phone here never stops," said Debra Kennedy. "The demand is so great no one has anywhere to stay."

Since the closure of two major mental hospitals in the area, the demand for their services keeps increasing.

From hospitals to nursing homes to family members, the sisters said they get about a 100 calls a week from people looking to provide a home for those with mental illnesses.

"Everybody is looking for placement," said Kennedy. "Everybody has someone that doesn't have anywhere to stay."

The Greenwell Springs Mental Hospital has been closed for three years now. According to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, three other state hospitals not including Earl J. Long with psychiatric beds have closed in the past three years.

Hospital/Number of Beds

Central in Alexandra - 132  
Eastern in Jackson - 500
Southeast in Mandeville - 176  

They add up to more than 800 spots beyond what was at the Greenwell Springs facility. Kennedy said with only about five organizations like them in the city and no help from the state. They say it's been a major challenge for years.

"You know we're seeing them on the side of the street, and most people are wondering why they're on the streets and most people contribute it to Katrina, but it's not a Katrina problem. It's a hospital closure problem," said Kennedy.

Kennedy and her sister believe the state should help and reach out to services like them instead of pushing the demand on those who dedicate their lives to helping others.

According to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, there are less than 600 beds available in the area for those with mental illnesses.


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