ActivePaper Archive Sobering Center welcomes director - Austin American Statesman, 12/12/2017


Sobering Center welcomes director

Rhonda Patrick starts Jan. 2, with facility set to open next summer.


Rhonda Patrick, at the podium, is introduced as Sobering Center chief. Travis Commissioner Margaret Gomez (from left), Austin Police Chief Brian Manley and Judge Nancy Hohengarten listen. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The director of the city’s future sobriety center — a building where Austin police officers will be able to bring intoxicated people instead of taking them to jail or a hospital — was introduced Monday at the center’s future site.

Rhonda Patrick, who was most recently CEO of Behavioral Heath Alliance of Texas and has previously served as a consultant and adviser for sobriety centers in San Antonio and Houston, will head the Sobering Center, which will be housed within the former Travis County medical examiner’s office on Sabine Street in downtown Austin, near 12th Street and Interstate 35. Officials expect the center to open next summer after renovations to the building are done.

Patrick, who will start Jan. 2, has “a large amount of experience in helping treatment facilities establish themselves. ... She’s very knowledgeable and has the capacity to run an organization like this,” said County Court-at-Law Judge Nancy Hohengarten, chairwoman of the board that oversees the Sobering Center project.

A key reason the 10-member board chose Patrick was her experience helping establish the Houston Recovery Center, the sobriety center on which Austin officials are closely modeling their own, Hohengarten said.

Patrick thanked the board for the opportunity at a news conference Monday.

“I’m looking forward to working with our community leaders, business leaders, service providers and public officials as we work toward integrating the Sobering Center into the overall continuum of care,” Patrick said.

Thenonprofitshepreviously headed,BehavioralHealthAlliance, seeks to improve people’s access to addiction treatment, advocate for people in recovery, improve jail conditions for pregnant women who are or were previously addicts, develop maternal health services for opiate-addicted women and their children, and advocate for local and state policies that decriminalize addiction.

Before the center opens, Patrick will be responsible for hiring staffers and overseeing building renovations, city officials said. The medical examiner’s office is still operating in the building on Sabine. Once those employees move to their brand new office on Springdale Road, renovations can begin to turn the building into the Sobering Center.

The center is meant for people facing public intoxication charges and nothing more. According to officials, the center will probably hold a maximum of 40 beds — they expect to set aside 32 for men and eight for women — and have a staff of 27 employees who will help people sober up, give them medical treatment and refer them to support services.

The center is a joint project ofTravisCountyandthecityof Austin.TravisCountywillcover the renovations, estimated to cost $887,500, and Austin will fund the center’s annual $1.7 million operating budget.

Officials said police will still have discretion on whether to take people to jail, the sobriety center or a hospital. There is likely to be some ticketing mechanism for people dropped at the center.

Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said he’s looking forward to having a sobriety center in the city.

“This is an important piece that we need as a community to address some of the challenges that we face, being a large major metropolitan area with large universities and a very vibrant entertainment district, to deal with some of the substance abuse issues that we see that take up valuable officer time and jail space,” Manley said. “So to have an alternative that really focuses on treatment versus simply incarceration, I think, is long overdue.”

The center’s website, which went live Monday at, states that peoplearebookedintojailinTravisCountyforpublicintoxication more than 2,000 times a year.

Contact Katie Hall at 512-445-3707.