The Orange County Commissioners Court took the first step is possibly converting Baptist Orange Hospital into a Veterans Administration Medical Inpatient Hospital.

The commissioners met for their regular meeting on the afternoon of June 22 to approve the resolution. Dr. Shawn Oubre, city of Orange city manager, said the city has applied to the VA since inpatient services were closed at BOH.

One suggestion from the advisory group composed of business and community leaders on what to do with the hospital was to make it a VA facility. A conference call was held with U.S. Rep. Brian Babin to be put under consideration.

“This is the initial step,” Oubre said.

County Judge Brint Carlton said there are more than 6,000 veterans in Orange County and many more regionally. The resolution expresses strong support for and request at the earliest opportunity the establishment of a VA Medical Inpatient Hospital.

The nearest VA hospitals are in Houston and Baton Rouge.

One point of the resolution read many military veterans are dependent on the Veterans Administration for their medical care. The difficulty and expense to travel to Houston or Baton Rouge medical facilities often make it difficult for many elderly and disabled veterans to avail themselves of services at those facilities.

Also, the interstate highway system, bridge crossings and traffic congestion at times make commuting to VA inpatient facilities difficult and lengthy.

The commissioners also approved the county entering into a contract with Spindletop Center (MHMR) ASAP Program. This program will be fully funded and comes at no cost to Orange County.

Sally Broussard, chief administrative officer for the Spindletop Center, called the ASAP Program a very exciting opportunity in Orange County.

“It’s been a long, collaborative effort between the two (Spindletop and Orange County),” she said.

The Spindletop Center’s primary focus is serving people with three types of mental illness (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression), intellectual and developmental disabilities, substance abuse issues and early childhood developmental delays.

There are 971 adults with mental illness; 95 children with mental illness; 143 emergent/urgent crisis hotline calls; 25 children with IDD, 232 adults with IDD, and 11 with IDD competitive employment and 342 substance abuse (outpatient only) and 221 early childhood intervention in Orange County.

The ASAP grant hires two mental health liaisons. They hope to have the program off and running by September. It will be a 25 percent local match with Spindletop Center providing a qualified mental health professional to ride along with law enforcement officers. Jefferson County is already working under the grant.

The mental health professional will intervene before a crisis mode.

The funding cycle is every two years.

Crump called the program a “wonderful idea.”

Sheriff Keith Merritt said he is very supportive of the program and a tool they can use. It will save the county money and intervene out of law enforcement back to mental health since mental health issues are becoming more prevalent with law enforcement dealing with the public.

John Banken, Precinct 3 commissioner, said he’s not against the program, but he was concerned if the county doesn’t get the grant they would be left paying for two extra law employees.

Broussard said they would be hired under a contract with the grant. Employment ends when the grant ends.

Banken said it will be hard to say no to the program when the citizens become used to it.

Broussard said it will provide the 25 percent local match.

Carlton said the program will be contingent upon the county receiving necessary grant money.

Commissioners approved changes to the policy on employee pay during declared disasters. FEMA guidelines have changed since adoption of the current policy.

Minnie Hightower, HR director, said FEMA pays after a disaster strikes and the county declares an emergency. The pay starts after 40 hours worked.

Banken asked if that’s in writing. Hightower said it’s in the FEMA handbook.

Banken said if there’s a disaster, the sheriff’s department has to stay through the entirety of the event.

“If they’re working 14 hours a day, we’ve got to compensate them. It’s time to visit with department heads so everyone is treated fairly,” he said.

Mary Johnson, county auditor, said the county will reimburse when it’s over 40 hours according to Orange County policy- 40 hours for regular employees, 86 hours for shift workers.

Hightower said last time during Hurricane Ike, some employees were gone four to five weeks and were still paid. Banken said that could be charged to their vacation time if they do that again.

Ryan Peabody, emergency management coordinator, proposed three days for employees to return from a disaster.

No action was taken.

Four part-time employees were hired for the transportation department.

Valli Lott, transportation department director, said they hire one employee, and two leave.

Dubose said the department needs the drivers. Banken reminded Lott the new drivers have the proper CDL.

Curt Guidry, maintenance and operations department supervisor, gave a status update on the Orange County Convention and Expo Center. He said they went from seven items needing completion on the punch list to two minor items.

A platform is needed for the generators at the center to do maintenance.

Guidry said Stewart & Stevenson, the manufacturer, didn’t recommend a platform. Banken said nobody wants the maintenance department to work unsafely and somebody dropped the ball by saying they don’t need a platform.

“This will now cost the county money and I’m disappointed,” Banken said.

Further discussion were whether to obtain a metal or a fiberglass platform and should it be attached at an extra cost or use a portable platform.