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NAKAMOTO: Despite dedicated funding from taxpayers, Baton Rouge mental health facility downsizing

3 weeks 15 hours 9 minutes ago Friday, September 09 2022 Sep 9, 2022 September 09, 2022 11:35 AM September 09, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - The WBRZ Investigative Unit learned key stakeholders at the Bridge Center for Hope were alerted this morning that the mental health center is downsizing.

According to emails obtained by the WBRZ Investigative Unit, the center's executive director sent a memo about the restructuring to board members just minutes after Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto called asking questions about the layoffs. Board members said they had no idea the center was downsizing until that email went out Friday morning. 

Sources told the WBRZ Investigative Unit around 15 people were given their two-week notices this week. Those sources said the respite care unit was closed and there are talks of shutting down other units at the facility that has only been open for a full year.

Sources said August 2022 was one of the busiest months for the mental health facility. However, those same sources said despite the dedicated funding stream, the state has not compensated the facility for people who have showed up without insurance or Medicaid.

Specific questions to Director Charlotte Claiborne at the Bridge Center about how many employees and what units were closed were not answered, but she did agree to an on camera interview Friday where she answered questions about why the facility was downsizing.

"I wouldn't say it's money trouble," Claiborne said. "We have a funding source issue. What I mean by that is the Bridge Center for Hope is the first ever crisis receiving center in Louisiana. Our license is 00001. When we opened we did not have a funding stream other than the property tax. We were always knowing we were going to have to go to the insurers and the state to help supplement the cost and that's where our issue is coming into play."

Currently, Claiborne said LDH has not reimbursed them for costs associated with people who have Medicaid.

Claiborne would not provide specific numbers of how many people were laid off, but confirmed the detoxification unit will also close on September 20.

"As executive director, we are still providing services, the promise that you keep saying we made we are still doing that," Claiborne said. "We are going to provide detoxification services, respite care. It's being done in a way we can still provide those services."

Earlier Friday, she issued the following statement.

"The Bridge Center continues to offer the same services within the facility including detoxification services," Claiborne said. "However, the Bridge Center and RI, the service provider, are committed to East Baton Rouge Parish residents. We are right sizing the overall program based on availability of funding to support the services and align with Louisiana Department of Health's newly implemented crisis continuum."

Taxpayers approved a dedicated tax to fund the mental health facility in 2018, seeing the imminent need. Tax forms filed by the Bridge Center show it operates on a more than $6 million budget. The latest tax forms show Director Charlotte Claiborne earns $116,532.

The Bridge Center opened its 26,000-square-foot facility in February last year, giving people in crisis another alternative to jail or emergency rooms.

Leaders at the Bridge Center selected RI International to run the facility. At the time, a partnership between Baton Rouge General and Our Lady of the Lake was turned down. The CEO's of both hospitals, Scott Wester at the Lake and Edgardo Tenreiro of the General issued the following statement after the board picked RI International:

"Our Lady of the Lake, Baton Rouge General and all of our partners are grateful to all of the community stakeholders who played a part in this important decision. We are blessed to live and operate in a community where we care about those most in need and we look forward to seeing the Bridge Center achieve success. While we are not familiar with Recovery International's work, we are confident that the Bridge Center board will ensure stewardship of our taxpayer dollars and that positive results will be delivered for our community. With more than 60 years of experience providing local mental health services in Baton Rouge, Our Lady of the Lake and Baton Rouge General stand ready to support the Bridge Center in whatever way possible."

WBRZ reached out to RI International which operates the Bridge Center and Louisiana Department of Health for a response. This story will be updated with their responses.

The Department of Health issued the following statement:

The Louisiana Department of Health did contract with RI International in May 2022 to help sustain its new crisis services, including startup funds for its Mobile Crisis Response programming and short-term funding to assist in services.   
 
The contract states that the facility is responsible for invoicing LDH for expenses incurred. LDH has reimbursed for invoices received from this facility for May and June. The July invoice is pending.
 
Louisiana Medicaid and the Office of Behavioral Health are looking further into the matter. LDH is dedicated to serving those in need, specifically those seeking crisis care.

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