On June 28, 2022, the Center for Community Solutions hosted a virtual conversation for the Human Services Advocacy Network (HSAN) titled “The State of the Diversion Center: Past, Present, and Future.” The panel consisted of Megan Testa, M.D., University Hospitals, Brandy Carney, Director of Public Safety and Justice, Cuyahoga County, Mike Randle, Executive Vice President Operations, Oriana House, and Donna Weinberger, Greater Cleveland Congregations. The panel was moderated by Joan Englund, Mental Health & Addiction Advocacy Coalition (MHAC). The event was attended virtually by approximately 60 individuals, despite only 4 days of marketing, demonstrating enormous interest in the conversation.
The Diversion Center appears to be underutilized, but demand is increasing
Open for approximately one year, the Diversion Center, located in and operated by Oriana House in Cleveland, is managed under a contract with Cuyahoga County government through the Alcohol, Drug Addiction, Mental Health Services board of Cuyahoga County. The center has a capacity of approximately 50 beds. During the past year, the highest number of beds that have been filled is 25, according to Randle. Currently, the center is averaging approximately 10-12 beds being filled on a regular basis, though that number has been increasing as eligibility for admission has changed and awareness of the center is increasing. The average stay for an individual is about five days. The goal is to get that individual connected to a mental health service provider within nine days.
Currently, the center is averaging approximately 10-12 beds being filled on a regular basis.
Diversion Center use will help inform new jail capacity needs
Carney described how the center has been several years in the making and is part of an ongoing effort by Cuyahoga County to reduce the number of people who are involved in the criminal justice system. Along with other criminal justice reforms such as central booking, the county is aiming to reduce the number of people who are incarcerated, which is especially important as the county explores a new jail.
Diversion Center referrals and admissions process
Initially, the center was just for individuals who were being referred by law enforcement. A law enforcement officer would call Frontline Services, which has access to a wide spectrum of mental health resources. The Frontline service worker would call the center and let them know that an individual is coming. Once arriving at the facility, they are screened by medical staff and provided access to services and treatment that can help them, according to Testa. Though admission and staying at the center is completely voluntary.
According to Randle, the admission policy has started to change, whereby families can now make a referral for a loved one to get treatment. Additionally, people can self-refer. In both instances, they do not have to have an initial interaction with law enforcement in order to be eligible.
The county diversion center is crucial to the success of strengthening the mental and behavioral health system.
Longer-view plans for the Diversion Center and crisis response in the county
Moving forward, the county diversion center is crucial to the success of strengthening the mental and behavioral health system, according to Weinberger, but there is more work to be done. Weinberger described how there needs to be co-responders to law enforcement calls when interacting with a person who is in crisis. This can be deployed not just in the City of Cleveland, but also county wide. Additionally, GCC strongly supports a youth diversion center as well.
The HSAN provided a fascinating overview of the origin of the diversion center, its current state, as well as what ideas can be pursuing to strengthen its impact on the community. Even with the hour-long conversation, there remains a need for additional conversation on this very important topic, because of the potential to save even more lives. To that end, the Center for Community Solutions will continue to explore this very important issue in the months ahead.