Governor tours revamped mental health campus in Mandeville

MANDEVILLE, La. -- When Tom Rowan looks across St. Tammany's new Safe Haven Campus for Behavioral Health, he sees opportunities he desperately wished he'd had as an alternative to attempting suicide.

"I was 46 years old before I got into recovery myself and there's no telling how many years might have been removed from that misery had there been the kind of resources and intervention tools that are going to be available here," said Rowan, who is now working as a substance abuse specialist with the St. Tammany chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness.

On Tuesday, Governor John Bel Edwards put his own eyes on the property and its potential. He applauded parish leaders for seeing past the challenge of the planned 2013 closing of Southeast Hospital, to create a chance for a thriving wellness campus.

"We have the school system out here, we have law enforcement, we have the judiciary involved, non-profit leaders, all came together to address what was a growing, and in fact, continues to be a growing health care crisis," said Edwards.

The first step will be opening a drop-in center that can serve 30 people at a time, to immediately address people lost in the worst points of their mental illness. There will also be a sobering component, to allow those also fighting addiction to take on both battles at once.

And what the governor says he's seen in Mandeville, he wants to see in other places.

"Unless you invest in facilities such as Safe Haven, and you have that collaborative effort, you're not going to make headway," he said, "You're going to continue to see many of our mentally ill people who wind up in jail, or in prisons, not getting the care that they need."

For Rowan, it's a future he's proud to be a part of to ensure others don't end up with a past like his.

The drop-in center is expected to open its doors in July.

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