New $14 million River Edge center a ‘game changer’ for recovery efforts


Liz Fabian

River Edge’s director of nursing and stabilization services Michele Fulcher, R.N., leads a tour Thursday through the children’s dining room.

People suffering with mental health and addictions soon will have a new haven in west Macon-Bibb County.

River Edge Behavioral Health is opening its new 48,000 square foot Recovery Center at 3575 Fulton Mill Road that will serve those 5 years old and up.

“This is a game changer,” said Shannon Terrell Gordon, River Edge CEO. “This is a brighter beacon of hope for more people than ever before that recovery is real and possible.”

Nearly a third of the $14 million dollar cost for the new facility is coming from $4.3 million in Macon-Bibb County SPLOST funds. The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and  Developmental Disabilities, Navicent Health, the Peyton Anderson Foundation and Friends of River Edge also made major contributions to supplement dozens of other private donations to make the project possible.

“We don’t get one dime of guaranteed funding from anywhere,” Gordon said.

River Edge bills insurance companies and Medicare and Medicaid for its services and also has a non-profit foundation to qualify for grants.

Michele Fulcher, R.N., River Edge’s director of nursing and stabilization services, said the Children’s Crisis Stabilization Unit is only one of four of its kind in Georgia and only one of three in the state that caters to clients as young as 5.

The sprawling one-story building between U.S. 80 and Columbus Road has separate wings for adults and children as well as a new short-term Crisis Service Center.

While clients in the stabilization units are referred for commitment by a doctor or judge to typically spend up to two weeks, the new round-the-clock service center has a 23-hour limit and accepts walk-ins who might be out of medication, skipped doses or need detoxing.

“They may just need a nap,” Fulcher said.

The public toured the new River Edge Crisis Services Center that functions like a 24-hour a day emergency room for people needing immediate help. (Liz Fabian)

The service center, which functions like a 24-hour emergency room, features nine temporary operation slots – four beds and five recliners.

“We’ll admit to the recliners first because we don’t want folks to get too comfortable,” Fulcher explained. “The goal is 50 percent of the people that walk in here will be able to be treated and released.”

By combining the service center with the stabilization units, the whole crisis team is available to determine what is needed for treatment. Between 130 – 140 people will staff the new building.

The new $14 million River Edge Recovery Center is located at 3575 Fulton Mill Road in west Bibb County. (Liz Fabian)

The lodge-like facility with stacked stone accents includes two adult wings totaling 30 beds, which is two more than the current facility on the same stretch of land. There are 16 beds available for children who can also enjoy a therapeutic, enclosed playground outdoors.

A therapeutic enclosed playground will allow children an opportunity to safely go outside while being treated at the new River Edge Recovery Center. (Liz Fabian)

A pair of locked doors separate the two populations which will not mingle at any time.

Colorful animal murals line the walls of the youth hall where each bedroom has its own bathroom. Murals in the adult section feature nature scenes.

Regulations also require a seclusion room in both the adult and children’s wings, although isolation is rarely used, Fulcher said.

The children’s wing includes a visitation room for family members, who are allowed to drop by daily, and a classroom for school three hours a day.

“A lot of our children have issues that are school related – fighting, disruption,” Fulcher said. “We need to see if they’re OK in that environment.”

Soothing rooms are also available for those with sensory challenges such as autism who might require comforting. Toys that appeal to those on the autism spectrum are available in the youth room while a calming beach mural adorns a wall in the adults’ room for when older clients need some quiet time.

Specially designed weighted chairs to protect against injury are in the children’s group room at the new River Edge Recovery Center. (Liz Fabian)

All of the furnishings are specially designed with safety in mind. Weighted chairs in the children’s group room reduce the risk of youngsters being able to pick them up and throw them or use them to do harm to others. Similar furniture has been purchased for the adult areas.

Beds in both halls are bolted to the ground and provide a “ligature resistant” design to guard against suicide.

Separate, shielded entrances for intakes keep new clients sheltered from the rest of the population as they are admitted to both wings. Windows are frosted.

“It’s all about privacy but letting the light in,” Fulcher said as she guided a tour Thursday after the ribbon cutting ceremony that drew state and local leaders.

As the group walked through the facility, which will be closed to the public once clients are admitted later this month, one of them noted the soft palette of the designs.

“I love the colors, too. They’re very refreshing,” she said.

Even the ceilings have decorative panels used to buffer noise in the roomy, uncarpeted facility that will replace a dark, cramped 1977 convalescent home on the more than 9-acre tract of land. That outdated center will be torn down, Gordon said.

The new children’s wing features plenty of daylight from frosted windows in the spacious hallway. (Liz Fabian)

Photos of the old building on display during the tour showed the sharp contrast between tight, dark hallways and the spacious, somewhat sunny corridors in the new center.

Fulcher noted their current 7 percent recidivism rate is “really low.”

“If we were able to get people stabilized and into recovery in that room, imagine what we can do here,” she said.

The state of the art facility will draw a wide variety of clients.

“We get people from every economic stratosphere because there’s not a lot of resources in the state,” she said.

River Edge already sees better than a 95 percent occupancy rate with a waiting list. With the global pandemic, the expansion of River Edge services couldn’t come at a better time, Gordon said.

“We’ve seen people struggling in recovery and seen people more desperate because they stayed at home,” she said. “The pandemic has had a definite impact on the public’s health.”

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]