With growth on the horizon, Central Alabama Wellness aims to destigmatize mental health
280 Living –
A nonprofit founded over 48 years ago is still going strong and assisting residents in Shelby and Chilton counties.
Formerly known as Chilton-Shelby Mental Health, Central Alabama Wellness exists to provide services to children, adolescents and adults dealing with mental illness and/or substance use, disorder and intellectual disability.
Created in 1972 as a result of Act 310, which established regional mental health boards across Alabama, Central Alabama Wellness is a member of the Alabama Council for Community Mental Health Boards and is certified by the Alabama Department of Mental Health. Through the years, the staff has helped almost 38,000 clients.
Its services include individual and group therapy, residential services for qualifying patients, substance abuse treatment, case management and other community services.
It also offers school-based services for children, employment assistance for qualifying patients, prevention activities and educational classes on a variety of subjects.
Its overall goal, though, is to help its clients live life well.
Based out of Calera, it has other locations in Clanton and Pelham and will soon have a home on the U.S. 280 corridor once the new 280 Services Center opens next year. Director Richard Fallin said about 20 employees will move to that location.
“Adding another location makes sense,” he said. “From that part of the county, the drive from here [Calera] over there  is a long drive. We are glad to add another access point on that end of the county.”
Fallin has served as director of Central Alabama Wellness since July 2018. A native of Cullman, Fallin obtained his MBA from Troy University and became an accountant. After a year, he realized that wasn’t the career path he wanted to pursue, so he got his master’s degree in divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and became a licensed counselor. He moved back to Cullman right before Hurricane Katrina hit and worked at Mental Healthcare of Cullman/Wellstone for 12 years. After that company merged, he decided to weigh his options.
“Anytime there is change, it prompts you to see what’s on the market,” Fallin said. “I applied, and they contacted me. I had two meetings with them, and at the second one, [former Shelby County Manager] Alex Dudchock, who was the board president, came to Cullman and offered me the job. Most traditional health centers don’t have a finance person as the lead, and I was both an accountant and a licensed professional counselor.”
The private company is run by a 10 member board, with five members from Chilton County and five from Shelby County that include, from Shelby County: Alex Dudchock (president); Ed Carter (secretary/treasurer); Shelby County Commissioners Lindsey Allison and Elwyn Bearden; Shelby County Probate Judge Allison Boyd; and from Chilton County: Jimmie Hardee (vice president); Tom Brown; Jason Calhoun; Terri B. Connell; and Matt Mims.
Central Alabama Wellness has three distinct divisions — mental illness, substance use and abuse disorders, and the intellectual disabilities — that serve children, adolescents and adults. It has relationships with four public school systems, including Shelby County Schools, Alabaster City Schools, Pelham City Schools and the Chilton County Schools.
Fallin said his goal is to have a therapist at every brick-and-mortar school.
Dudchock has served on the board for over three years and was recently appointed for another four-year term. Even after stepping down as county manager, this was one of the areas he wanted to continue to serve. Dudchock said one of the areas close to his heart are the services offered for children and adolescents. He believes it’s important that services and assessments are done as soon as possible so they can be continued throughout the growth and aging process.
“We will be better off as a health care provider meeting their needs if we identify them early in the process,” Dudchock said.
He added that the majority of the clients at Central Alabama Wellness are not coming from the court system or corrections realm.
“They are basically community members seeking mental health services or family members of those who need services in the substance abuse area,” Dudchock said.
Fallin said the division that people ask most about is substance abuse, as many of them are looking to get help for a loved one. Central Alabama Wellness currently provides outpatient services but can refer to state certified programs if needed. A wellness assessment is given, and the score will determine if they can be treated there or if they need to go to another agency.
It provides a safe environment for those seeking recovery and has counselors who work with patients through a three-phase structure that requires a minimum of four months to six months of outpatient drug and alcohol treatment. The Wellness Outpatient program promotes responsibility and accountability, as well as establishing healthy habits.
Most adolescents dealing with substance abuse are referred to Central Alabama Wellness from Compact 2020 or the Juvenile Detention Center. They participate in both individualized therapy and group therapy. Therapists are also located inside the Shelby County Jail and give assessments when an inmate is brought in. They are given individual therapy until they are released and will afterward receive a follow-up from a therapist.
Central Alabama Wellness has five group homes: two in Shelby County and three in Chilton County. They are a step-down unit and also receive patients from Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa.
One of the homes in Chilton County is unique in that it serves mentally ill patients who are also deaf. The staff there are deaf as well.
The Residential Program focuses on working with consumers who may not otherwise have the opportunity to reside safely in the community without a more intensive level of services and support. The goal is to provide treatment, training and education to consumers and their families or natural supports in order to develop skills and knowledge to facilitate transition to the most independent level of care possible.
One of the recent initiatives that Central Alabama Wellness has been involved in is Stepping Up, a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails.
“We actually obtained innovator county status a couple of months ago,” said Regina Mims, chief operating officer of Central Alabama Wellness. “That means we are the best at Stepping Up in the country. Shelby County is a model to the state of Alabama and also the entire country. We are trying to teach others how to have this level of collaboration with county partners and agencies.”
Central Alabama Wellness’ Adult Mental Illness Division Director Daphne Kendrick said in a May 28 article on the Stepping Up Initiative website that, “Stepping Up has helped solidify connections across the county to better serve people with mental illness in the time of COVID-19. Law enforcement is using its crisis response team training to keep people from being arrested and connected to our services.”
Fallin added: “There is a big push to reduce the rate of recidivism for jail and emergency rooms. Our Stepping Up case manager can walk alongside clients and help them get identification, find housing and help them with services for substance abuse if necessary. We follow up with them and connect them with mental health providers in their county for a smooth hand off back to their community.”
In addition to Central Alabama Wellness, other participants in Stepping Up include:
- the Shelby County Commission
- County Manager Chad Scroggins
- several Shelby County judges
- the Shelby County DA’s Office
- the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department
- Shelby County Community Corrections
- Shelby County specialty courts (drug court, VA court, mental health court and domestic violence court)
- Shelby County public defenders
- the Shelby County Health Foundation
- pardons and parole
- Shelby Baptist Medical Center
- Middle Alabama Area Agency on Aging (M4A)
- COMPACT 2020
- Shelby County Probate Court
- Shelby County IT Department
- ROSS Recovery Center
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Shelby
- Bradford Health Services
- police from various municipalities
- fire and EMT from various municipalities
- various individual citizens
Many might think Central Alabama Wellness is a state agency and that its services are free, but that’s not the case. While it does receive certain dollars, it is already earmarked for certain things.
Its 2020 budget was $9,240,051.
Central Alabama Wellness receives state and federal contracts through the state Department of Mental Health (DMH) in Montgomery and acts as an agent of the department. The DMH receives all of the federal funding and then allocates it to different mental health centers. Other sources of funding come from the Shelby County Commission and the Shelby County Community Health Foundation, which was formed in 1996 after the sale of Shelby Medical Center to the Baptist Health System.
“We submit to them a proposal of things we would like to do, and whatever they choose to support is what we do,” Mims said.
“We work on a slim margin utilizing resources and funds the best way we can stretch every dollar,” Fallin added.
Fallin said Central Alabama Wellness wants to erase the stigma surrounding mental health.
“Some people think asking for help is a sign of weakness, but everybody can use counseling from time to time; it shouldn’t be seen in negative connotation to want to better yourself.”