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Cuyahoga County's diversion center looks to attract more patients in 2022

The diversion center on Cleveland's East Side is run by Oriana House and overseen by the ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County. [Cuyahoga County]
Cuyahoga County diversion center

As Cuyahoga County’s diversion center enters its second calendar year of operation, officials involved in running it are hoping to increase its use, while exploring options for a larger permanent site.

Between early May, when the center started accepting people, and mid-December, a total of 186 people have used the 50-bed temporary facility on Cleveland’s East Side.

The goal originally was for police officers to bring people for treatment who otherwise would go to jail or the emergency room. The center has since expanded to accept anyone in need of help.

County Executive Armond Budish announced the opening of the diversion center last year. The county signed a two-year, $9.2 million contract with the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County to oversee the center.

“This project will change criminal justice in Cuyahoga County,” Budish said at the time. “We’ll be enabling people to break free of the cycle of incarceration and join the community as productive citizens.”

When the center opened in May, Budish was already floating plans to expand capacity by refurbishing the old juvenile justice center in Downtown Cleveland.

But the center has been slow to fill up.

According to ADAMHS Board CEO Scott Osiecki, they’ve only had as many as 10 beds filled at any one time since its opening. One issue, Osiecki said, is Cleveland police and other departments across the county have been slow to adopt usage of the diversion center.

“It’s a new resource for them, and it takes people a little time to learn about it,” Osiecki said.

Only about half the police agencies in the county are bringing people to the center so far, he said. The largest user has been Cleveland, but Cleveland police have only brought 35 people there during the past seven months.

Incoming Mayor Justin Bibb has said he will remove a controversial requirement put in place by Cleveland’s prosecutor that officers need authorization from the law department before bringing anyone there.

The county’s director of public safety and justice services, Brandy Carney, said she was pleased to hear Bibb’s announcement.

“Cleveland is a significant issue just because of their volume,” Carney said. “A lot of the people we are talking about are within the city of Cleveland.”

The county has also expanded who can be brought in for treatment. Starting in October, police officers could bring in people who had not committed a crime. In November, the center began accepting self-referrals and people referred by family, friends or non-police agencies like the Downtown Cleveland Alliance.

More than half the people receiving treatment have arrived since those changes were made.

“When we look at other crisis centers or diversion centers across the country, they’re available to anyone in the community,” Osiecki said.

A permanent site

The current 50-bed site was originally meant to be temporary. County officials are exploring a permanent site, but according to Carney, it’s not clear a new, larger site is needed.

“Hopefully, we will continue to see the diversion center numbers rise and then, at some point, make the decision on whether it’s time or there’s that need, and it makes sense both financially and because of the resource need, to build or move to a new center,” Carney said.

Chair of county council’s public safety committee, Mike Gallagher, said the current facility may be large enough.

“The permanent site is probably not going to be much bigger than 50 beds,” Gallagher said.

He added that once Cleveland police start bringing more people there and plans for a sped up, centralized booking area at the jail are in place, use of the diversion center should increase.

“We need cooperation for this to work,” Gallagher said.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.