Sarpy jail budget story (copy)

The Sarpy County Law Enforcement Center has housed the County Jail since it was built in 1989.

A distressingly high portion of the Sarpy County Jail’s inmates — 28%, on average — have a diagnosed serious mental illness. Sarpy County Board Chairman Don Kelly points to that concern and correctly observes, “The de facto mental health centers are now your jails, correctional centers and your emergency rooms in Nebraska, and that’s just not acceptable. These people that are having psychiatric crises. They need help.”

Sarpy County government made a forward-looking effort this year to address the need by proposing construction of a mental health crisis center. The $13 million facility, with 22,000 to 25,000 square feet of space, would have been the first such facility in the state.

Negotiations with Nebraska Medicine on the proposal didn’t reach completion, however. In August, Nebraska Medicine officials signaled they would focus instead on building a similar center at the medical system’s campus on 42nd Street in Omaha.

Last week brought a measure of good news. Sarpy officials and Nebraska Medicine said they have agreed to explore the creation of a mental health crisis center at the Bellevue Medical Center. Although Nebraska Medicine has made no commitment, the continuing discussion is encouraging and needed.

As we noted here recently, Sarpy is Nebraska’s fastest growing county, with a population growth rate during 1990-2018 (79%) more than double that for Douglas County (35.6%). It makes eminent sense for public officials to explore a practical, collaborative strategy to meet Sarpy’s major behavioral health needs.

Sarpy County officials deserve credit for identifying this issue and proposing a solution. Here’s hoping the current discussions with Nebraska Medicine can lead to a viable resolution that addresses this major public need.

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