Public can weigh in on plans to replace closed mental health agency

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Hundreds of people who had relied on the now-defunct Columbus Area Integrated Health Services soon will have a new option for behavioral-health care.

Two longtime local agencies — PrimaryOne Health and Southeast Healthcare Services — are joining forces to fill the gap created by the financial collapse of Columbus Area, which closed suddenly this spring after serving the Near East Side and its largely African-American community for more than 50 years.

“Southeast and PrimaryOne are committed,” said PrimaryOne CEO Charleta Tavares. “I had a brother who suffered from severe mental illness. I’m committed to making sure that people get the services they need.”

The Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County likely will approve a plan soon to start funding services through the new operation, said Aimee Shadwick, a spokeswoman for the ADAMH board.

The board stepped in when Columbus Area shut down, helping to connect more than 900 former Columbus Area clients with new service providers. The board also sent letters to all active and inactive clients, reaching out to regulars and to people who had open cases but hadn’t recently been in for a visit.

Shadwick said that added up to nearly 4,000 people. Many of them likely require ongoing treatment and care for mental illness and addiction.

“What we can tell from those two numbers is, there is still an unmet need in the community,” she said.

PrimaryOne and Southeast are working to find a location, even a temporary one, east of Downtown that will allow them to be up and running this fall.

In the meantime, the nonprofit agencies are joining the ADAMH board in a series of public meetings to hear from residents what services they most need. The next is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at East High School, 1500 E. Broad St.

The last meeting is also at 6 p.m. at East High, on Aug. 29.

“While we recognize there is a need that we want to fill immediately, we also want to take the time to have a conversation about the longer-term needs of the community,” Shadwick said. “It’s important that we give residents the opportunity to hear their voice.”

One question to be considered, Tavares said, is how many different types of care will or should be offered at the new site. Behavioral health is a given, but PrimaryOne also could help with a comprehensive approach to offer more primary care, dental and vision, and women’s health services, she said.

The collapse of Columbus Area also cost more than 120 employees their jobs. Former CEO Anthony Penn has not commented publicly on why the agency racked up more than $2 million in debt, leading to a financial crisis that ultimately will end in a bankruptcy filing.

Columbus Area also was known for providing culturally appropriate care, and that loss has been significant for many.

“There was a long history there,” Tavares said. “It hurts the whole community, but especially the African-American community of the Near East Side.”

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@RitaPrice