June 17, 2024

Wake County searches for new provider at WakeBrook Behavioral Health Facility

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) — After Wake County and UNC Health were unable to come to an agreement on a new contract to operate the WakeBrook Behavioral Health Facility, the county and Alliance Health are searching for a new provider.

UNC Health has provided services to the county-owned facility since 2012 but will cease operations at the location at the end of September.

WakeBrook offers alcohol and drug detox as well as crisis, psychological, and psychiatric services. Short and long-term beds are available, and patients can either be voluntarily or involuntarily hospitalized.

“There are so many people who are uninsured that come here and receive treatment, and I know they’re not going to get the treatment that they need,” said Ann Akland, who previously served as President of NAMI Wake County.

“Over the past two weeks, my phone calls have doubled. People are like ‘Where do I go, what do I do?’ What resource do I have to offer them other than the emergency departments? And they’re not really equipped to house them and take care of them for the length of time it needs for them to be stable,” said Terri Conyers, Executive Director of Fellowship Home of Raleigh, which operates two halfway houses.

Akland and Conyers are part of a group called Save WakeBrook, and expressed concern about coverage gaps once the contract expires.

“WakeBrook has supported us since the beginning. They make referrals, they allow us to come in and talk with the individual clients to make sure they’re a fit. Just the substance use community at large is going to suffer,” said Conyers.

Akland said she’s expressed concerns directly to the Wake County Commissioners.

“Psychiatric beds are in short supply all over the state. And so losing (these) beds is just a real problem. and then there’s also these residential psychiatric beds that are short-term, these don’t exist (elsewhere) in Raleigh,” Akland said, who noted law enforcement and EMS utilize the facility to drop off vulnerable individuals in need of care.

A Wake County spokesperson said they anticipate finalizing the selection of a new provider for three of four programs – crisis and assessment, facility-based crisis (short-term stays for patients with behavioral health and substance use needs), and addictions detox unit, for patients with medical detox – next week. However, it acknowledges a provider will likely not be able to start October 1st, meaning they are anticipating a temporary closure of WakeBrook.

“We have behavioral health urgent care. They’re going to expand their hours. So again, we’ll have more of these details as we get to the end of September, but for now, we believe we do have other resources folks can access, starting with 988,” said Wake County Assistant Manager Denise Foreman, referring to the national suicide and crisis lifeline.

Foreman said it will probably take another month to finalize a provider of the fourth program for inpatient treatment. She acknowledged there will be longer waits in the interim at other sites, but expressed confidence the county is prepared to address needs.

“(Determining plans) is still work we’re doing with our other community hospitals. We’re fortunate that we have three in Wake County. We also have two behavioral health providers for adults and one for youth in Wake County,” said Foreman.

A county spokesperson said providers have been instructed to focus on patients who are uninsured, underinsured, or are on Medicaid.

Foreman noted UNC Health will start reducing admissions prior to September 30th to try and ensure continuity of care, adding the health system is working with the state and its other facilities to accommodate any patient transfers if necessary.

In a statement, UNC Health spokesperson Alan Wolf wrote in part:

“While UNC Health will no longer serve as the provider of services at Wake County’s WakeBrook facility beyond Sept. 30, 2023, we are proud of the much-needed care and services provided by our dedicated staff to thousands of patients during the past 10 years.”

According to a WARN notice filed with the state, 246 employees will be impacted. Wolf tells ABC 11 that the filing is a legal requirement, and they hope to transfer current employees to other areas of UNC Health.

“Our leadership, human resources team, and many others are working diligently to find new positions for these valued employees within the UNC Health system.

A priority placement program has begun for UNC Health’s WakeBrook teammates. We will provide WakeBrook teammates with priority access to interviews and applicable job openings while continuing their current pay and benefits. UNC Health operates a large network of hospitals and clinics across the Triangle, and we will collaborate with each employee to identify new positions that fit their experience and interest.

For example, some WakeBrook employees will transition to positions at UNC Health Rex in Raleigh, UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, and our new behavioral health hospital for children and adolescents in Butner.”

The RJ Blackley facility in Butner is in the process of being renovated into a behavioral health hospital, with Wolf noting the hope to begin operating later this year.

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