February 2013: David O’Quin, a 39-year-old artist with schizophrenia, stopped taking his psychiatric medication. He was placed in jail for his own protection because mental health services had been cut or reduced in Baton Rouge. To control him, jailers put him in restraints for days, inducing a blood clot that killed him in 2013. Four more people with mental illness died in jail the year after.

David’s father, Bill O’Quin became an advocate for reform, using his resources and connecting with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation to start an initiative that would lead to creation of The Bridge Center.

April 2013: The Mental Health Emergency Room Extension (MHERE) at the former Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge closes.

March 2014: The Foundation researches best practices around the country in partnership with numerous community partners including the Mayor’s office, the District Attorney, the Public Defender, the judicial system, the Sheriff, Capital Area Human Services District, service providers, and mental health advocates. Baton Rouge stakeholders visit San Antonio to learn about the Restoration Center, a diversion center that functions as an option for those in crisis.

January 2015: Stakeholders seek to generate community engagement and share information beyond their group through a series of community guest speakers. The first speaker is Leon Evans, president and CEO of the Center for Health Care Services, the entity that operates the Restoration Center for Bexar County and San Antonio.

February 2015: Pete Earley, author of “Crazy: A Father’s Search Through Mental Health Madness,” speaks in Baton Rouge to 200 attendees about his search for mental health services for his son.

March 2015: Judge Steven Leifman speaks in Baton Rouge about how he partnered to transform Miami’s jail system by diverting people with mental illness to treatment.

March 2015: A clinical design committee outlines proposed programs for a treatment center. These programs include a mobile assessment team, sobering center, detox services, acute psychiatric care and behavioral health respite, and ongoing case management.

April 2015: The Foundation publishes the Potential Economic and Fiscal Impacts of a Jail Diversion Program and Restoration Center for Mental Health and Related Disorders in Baton Rouge by the Perryman Group. The report estimates the Bridge Center would generate the following direct cost savings for the Baton Rouge community:

  • $3 million in the initial year of operation of the program

  • $8.1 million per year once the program reaches a mature state

  • $24.6 million in total over the first five years

  • $54.9 million in total over the first 10 years.

February 2016: The Foundation publishes a report by Health Management Associates converting the clinical design committee’s work into a formal business plan for the Bridge Center for Hope.

June 2016: The City-Parish publishes the East Baton Rouge Parish Justice Center Study which outlines several recommendations for reducing the jail population in the parish, including the creation of the Bridge Center for Hope.

August 2016: The Bridge Center is formed with an independent board that includes the district attorney, East Baton Rouge Sheriff, East Baton Rouge Coroner, community mental health advocates, service providers and doctors.

December 2016: A 1.5-mill property tax to fund the Bridge Center and pay for a new 30-bed facility with an estimated $5 million annually narrowly loses at the polls.

January 2017: The Bridge Center secures a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to start a pilot pre-trial release program. Later in the year, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome commits $260,000 annually to sustain the project.

July 2017: The Bridge Center hires Emergent Method to analyze future options for the Bridge Center, including consolidating efforts with other community organizations and new and different funding streams.

April 2018: Emergent Method presents their findings, which include the clear need for a public infusion of funds to sustain all proposed Bridge Center programs.