Even though Gov. Nathan Deal helped lead a ceremonial groundbreaking in early May, Pehrson said shovels won’t start digging until the bonds are validated.
Dr. Dan Stephens, chairman of the county’s Community Services Board, called the planned facility a “crisis stability unit.”
He said the unit would provide care for the acute mentally ill or those with acute psychiatric problems in order to compensate for the recent closing of state hospitals.
The funding for such a facility follows a complicated trail linking the state, the county, the services board and the Kennestone Hospital Authority.
Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee said since the state was serving as the guarantor, the bonds had to pass through an authority.
He said the county selected the Kennestone authority because it was a health-related authority.
“We just chose them because they’d be the best authority to pass the funds through,” he said.
Bob Prillaman, chairman of the Kennestone Hospital Authority, said the authority has no responsibility “financially or otherwise” for the mental health facility, which he noted was a county endeavor.
“That came through the authority simply because that was a good way for the financing,” Prillaman said.
Butch Thompson, a member of the Kennestone authority and former Cobb commissioner, was the authority’s sole dissenter when the bond issuance came to vote in May.
“To be honest, it wasn’t presented well enough, in my opinion, to justify voting for it,” Thompson said.
He said it was “unusual” for his authority to issue bonds on land it doesn’t own.
Tyler Pearson, a spokesman for WellStar, said the selection of the Kennestone authority and the process of issuing the bonds is made possible by an intergovernmental contract, which he said is a “pretty commonly used tool.”
He said the authority was enlisted to satisfy certain code requirements that would allow the county and the Community Services Board to “spend their own money for construction of the project in advance of the bonds being issued, with the anticipation of being reimbursed from the bond proceeds once the bonds are issued.”
The Community Services Board — which Stephens said provides care for patients with mental health issues, developmental disabilities or substance abuse problems — will lease the facility from the county upon its completion, said Tod Citron, executive director of the Community Services Board.
He said the state’s Department of Behavioral Health would provide the board with the money to run the new facility, including funds for lease payments and money to pay the staff he plans to hire.
Commissioners approved the services board’s 20-year lease at their May 27 meeting, where they also awarded a design-and-build contract for the project to the Batson-Cook Company.
The state selected Cobb County as the site for one of six mental health facilities it has been compelled to build as part of a federal lawsuit settlement, Citron said.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the state of Georgia after alleging state hospitals unlawfully segregated patients with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.
Tom Browning, attorney for the Kennestone authority, said the center will eventually “take the cases that would burden down hospitals.”
He noted most of the patients who require the kind of treatment the unit will provide don’t have health insurance.
“The hospital is glad to accommodate the county because it’s for the benefit of the county in general,” Browning said.
He estimated the county and the authority had been discussing the project for about a year, but said he expects to see the rest of the process completed in the next 90 days.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Pehrson said of the four-way partnership between the hospital authority, the county, the services board and the state that will make the center possible.
He noted some of the required legal documents will be executed at the July 22 commissioners meeting.
Stephens said the center will house 24 beds: 18 in the crisis stability unit for two- to four-day stays and six in another wing for 24-hour stays.
After their time at the center, patients will be transferred for treatment at other appropriate outlets by the board, Stephens said, which runs programs including addiction services and group homes.
“We’re going to end up with a wonderful, state-of-the-art facility that will provide care for patients instead of (them) ending up in an emergency room suffering,” Citron said.
He said the joint venture would provide mutual benefits to both the parties involved and to the community itself.
“The state is providing the funding for the services. We need a new facility, the location is perfect, and Cobb County is going to get a great new facility because of these partnerships.”