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Knoxville to become the first in the state to open mental health urgent care

Professionals noted more than 30,000 Knox County residents struggle with mental illness. Most are uninsured substance abuse patients.
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 11:02 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Leaders from the state, city and county all met with mental health professionals to address the mental health crisis rearing its head across East Tennessee on Monday. During a joint mental health workshop, professionals noted more than 30,000 Knox County residents struggle with mental illness. Most are uninsured substance abuse patients.

Shayla McDaniel, a Knoxville’s recording artist, was one of those managing her mental health after a depression diagnosis. She turned to her music to cope, but everyone doesn’t have an outlet and some will need immediate medical help.

“I’ve been managing well and doing a lot better and praise God and I just encourage you if you don’t feel okay, that’s okay. Talk to somebody,” said McDaniel.

That’s where The Helen Ross McNabb Center’s CEO Jerry Vagnier was hoping to close the gap by using $4 million of state funding to turn the old St. Mary’s Hospital into a three-year mental health urgent care pilot program.

“It shouldn’t matter who you are, how old you are, what you look like or what your health condition is, you should have access to treatment readily in our community,” said Vagnier. “That would make us very, very unique.”

The idea will be similar to the new Knoxville Center for Behavioral Medicine taking the burden away from low-staff hospital emergency rooms. It would also speed up services for those in a crisis.

Vagnier said the facility was expected to be here in the next 18 months.

The state also budgeted $560.5 million to invest in mental health services.

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