In May 2024, Forbes Advisor used seven key metrics to compare all 50 states and Washington, D.C. to determine which states are worst for mental health care. Alabama came in third worst. Unfortunately, Alabamians are accustomed to headlines like this about our state.  

But this is only part of the story.  

The Jefferson-Blount-Shelby (JBS) Mental Health Authority’s Craig Crisis Care Center is working hard to shift the narrative and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham is committed to supporting these efforts. 

Dr. Sabrina Scott and Jim Crego
Dr. Sabrina Scott, Crisis Care Center Director, and Jim Crego, Executive Director at JBS Mental Health Authority

The Crisis Care Center – which opened at 401 Beacon Parkway West in Birmingham in March 2023 — is a place for individuals 19 or older who are actively experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis to receive the immediate care they need. Not only does the Crisis Care Center provide rapid stabilization but the center also connects patients with the continued care they will need moving forward.  

Without facilities like the Crisis Care Center, many people experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis are taken to emergency rooms or – even worse — arrested.  

Robin Sparks, Mental Health Initiative Director for the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, recognizes that the center not only helps people in crisis but the community as a whole. 

“It’s taking the burden off of the healthcare system, and also taking a burden off of the criminal justice system,” she says. “It will alleviate some of the pressure on those two systems and also, certainly serve the people who are in crisis and overall, that should make for a more efficient utilization of resources and dollars going forward.” 

That means, for example, less crowded emergency rooms.  

“And it doesn’t do any good to throw somebody with a mental health crisis into jail,” Sparks says. “That’s not really helpful for anybody.” 

Not only are people in crisis not going to get the help they need in jail, but law enforcement officers often don’t have the training or the staff to stabilize a person who needs emergency mental health care.  

Since it opened last year, the Crisis Care Center has served 1,714 people, as of the end of April 2024. In the first quarter of 2024 alone, the center served 422 residents – more than any of the other crisis care centers in the state. (There are centers in Mobile, Madison, Dothan, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa.)  

“We are proud to have served over 1,700 individuals in the Birmingham and greater Alabama area,” says Dr. Sabrina Scott, director of the Crisis Care Center. “I believe we have provided an opportunity for those in need of crisis services, who might not otherwise have been able to be seen at all and or in a timely manner in the community, to receive help. These individuals were able to receive crisis stabilization, medication management, after care planning and in many cases, secured placements with other agencies in the community to continue their recovery process after leaving the JBS Craig Crisis Care Center.” 

The Craig Crisis Care Center – named for veteran mental health trailblazer and advocate for Alabama’s Crisis System of Care, Dr. Richard Craig, who served as the executive director of JBS Mental Health Authority for 23 years – has been years in the making.  

When JBS Mental Health Authority first made a bid for funding from the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the proposal was denied.  

“One of the reasons we were not funded was that the other bidders had obtained local funding in support of their effort to operate a crisis care center,” Dr. Scott explains.  

When JBS threw its hat in the ring again, the Community Foundation joined the fight, committing a $50,000 matching grant, and Sparks was also in JBS’s corner helping with the application. Sparks is part of an executive committee of community stakeholders dedicated to helping the center obtain funding and to become and remain operational. 

“The financial support of the Community Foundation was included in our proposal the following year, and we were the only bidder awarded funding,” Dr. Scott says. “An added benefit to the support of the Community Foundation for our effort was the addition of Robin Sparks to our Crisis Care Center Executive Committee. The Craig Crisis Care Center might not be in existence today without the support of the Community Foundation.” 

As with all areas of healthcare currently, staffing was a challenge when the center first opened in March 2023. But the 48-bed facility was able to run at full capacity by November of last year.  

“Our biggest challenge at this point is related to awareness,” Dr. Scott says. “Many individuals and community providers, including law enforcement, are still unaware that we are here as a vital resource for those in crisis for mental health and substance use. We continue to reach out to law enforcement, hospitals, community stakeholders and providers to educate and inform them of our services. We are hoping the word will continue to spread so that the community can maximize the benefits of a 24/7 crisis center in the Birmingham area.”  

For more information about the Community Foundation’s Mental Health Initiative, contact Robin Sparks at