Over the past two years, the empty superstore was a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic. Sometime in 2024, it will open as Prince William County’s first “crisis receiving center,” a facility that aims to provide a wide range of mental health services and supports to anyone who needs them.
The empty building known as “the old Gander Mountain store," located off of Prince William Parkway near Potomac Mills in Woodbridge, will house the long-awaited facility, which is hoped to be a game changer in the way mental health services are delivered in Prince William County, officials announced in a Tuesday, July 19, press conference at the county's James J. McCoart administration building.
“The crisis receiving center, or CRC for short, will increase local access and capacity … and provide more timely access to services for those experiencing acute, behavioral health care needs,” said Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At Large.
Lisa Madron, executive director of the county’s Community Services Board, which oversees mental health services, called the center “a transformational change to our treatment system.”
Currently, someone suffering a mental health crisis would likely begin their search for help in a hospital emergency room where they might wait several hours or even days for a bed in a mental health unit or a residential facility. Those who need help with a less acute mental health challenge might wait weeks or months to see a mental health professional, which are also in short supply.
The planned crisis receiving center aims to offer an alternative: a place where anyone can receive both immediate help and access to long-term support for conditions ranging from serious mental health crises to challenges such as addiction, depression or anxiety.
State and local elected officials announced the county supervisors’ decision to lease the old Gander Mountain store, at 14041 Worth Ave., and transform the giant building into the crisis receiving center, a process that is expected to take between 18 and 24 months, Madron said.
They were also there to celebrate a federal, state and local effort to raise nearly $11 million in start-up funds for the facility. The money includes $4.5 million from the county’s federal COVID-19 relief funds, a $2.5 million state grant and a $2 million gift from the Potomac Health Foundation.
The effort to establish the center and secure the funding was led by Supervisor Andrea Bailey, D-Potomac, and Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-31st. It was supported by VOICE, Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement, speakers said.
Acute services initially for adults
The county issued an “request for proposals” for a contractor to operate the facility earlier this month and expects to award a bid sometime in September. The contractor will use the “Crisis Now” model. The approach was developed in Arizona and combines a secure facility for those under “emergency custody orders” or “temporary detention orders” -- legal designations for people considered a threat to themselves or others who must be placed in a secure environment -- as well as services for those experiencing less severe challenges.
The acute care portion of the new facility will initially have space for 16 adult beds – eight for inpatients and eight for observation of up to 23 hours. The facility is expected to also house some of the county’s mental health programs, including a new "trauma treatment program," peer support and access to medication-assisted treatment or MAT for those suffering substance use disorders, Madron said.
The county hopes to eventually expand the facility to offer both acute, overnight and 23-hour observational services for adolescents as young as 13 or 14. Eventually, the county would like to offer a total of 32 slots for adults -- 16 overnight beds and 16 recliners for observation of up to 23 hours -- as well as eight of each for adolescents. But such an expansion will require additional funding, Madron said.
There’s only one such facility operating in Virginia, a regional center that opened in Chantilly in February. When the Prince William County CRC is up and running sometime in 2024, it will be larger and will offer a wider range of services, Madron said.
The county will pay about $434,000 annually to lease the superstore space during the first year and about $651,000 the second year. The rent will gradually increase each year, reaching about $1 million by the eighth year of the lease, according to a county staff report. The building will be one of the largest buildings leased by the county.
Dignified and discreet
County staff was not initially looking for such a large facility, but the size and the location of the old Gander Mountain store will benefit both the operation of the CRC and better serve the county’s long-term needs, the county staff report said. The county’s community services staff is expected to run out of space at its current locations with expected expansions in their five-year plan. The county currently offers mental health services at both the Ferlazzo Building, at Richmond Highway and Cardinal Drive in Woodbridge, and at its Sudley North Government Center, on Ashton Avenue in Manassas.
In an interview after the press conference, Madron said she considers the old Gander Mountain store space ideal because it offers enough room to offer a range of mental health services in a discreet and dignified way. The facility will likely have separate entrances for various clients, some of whom will be brought there by police and others who will come voluntarily. It’s also important that the facility fit in with its neighbors and not “stick out like a sore thumb,” she said.
“We want it to be discreet. We want it to be respectful and we want it to be seen as a source of help ... and hopefully be a welcoming place,” Madron said.
Reach Jill Palermo at email@example.com