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Board members told to not talk about layoffs at taxpayer-funded mental health facility: 21 let go as place bleeds cash

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BATON ROUGE – Peeved that WBRZ and Chris Nakamoto were able to report on secret layoffs at the taxpayer-funded Bridge Center for Hope, the head honcho at the mental health facility blasted board members and forbid them from sharing information with reporters going forward.

The Bridge Center for Hope, a government-backed and politician-promoted facility set up to deal with the mental health crisis in Baton Rouge, operates from a $6 million property tax approved by voters in East Baton Rouge.  WBRZ reported first Friday, the staff was being downsized.

Sources told WBRZ, staff were just given notice and the respite care unit was closed and there are talks of shutting down other units at the facility.

The facility has been open for just more than a year.  It’s operated by RI International.

Director Charlotte Claiborne refused to provide specifics Friday.  Monday, the third-party operator elaborated, revealing 21 people were let go and 16 beds being eliminated from the treatment rotation.

RI International blamed a lack of Louisiana Medicaid reimbursement for its “over $5 million in losses to date.”

RI International also suggested it’s on track to lose another $3 million and that the Bridge Center’s rollout to the community was too expansive: “facility programming was built larger than the original plan proposed to voters with the expectation that funding in addition to the taxpayer investment would be secured. Simply stated, the increased services have been provided to the community and additional funding has not materialized.”

Also Monday, the Bridge Center lambasted board members in a tirade over how Nakamoto found out the mental health center was on shaky ground.  Board members were told this week, only Claiborne or the board chair can speak with reporters.

“Positive media solicitation is an integral element of the Bridge Center’s communication policy,” a memo about a media relations policy outlined.

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.

The Louisiana Department of Health said it only recently signed a contract with RI International and has paid invoices from the start of the contract – May 2022.

“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.”

Members of the Board of Directors for the Bridge Center only learned about the issues when Nakamoto started reporting on the problems Friday morning.  The board has been summoned to an emergency meeting this week.


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