April 30, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 18


Kitsap considers crisis center as alternative to jail, emergency rooms for those with mental illness

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

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A hospital emergency room is a terrible environment in which to treat mental illness, said Charlie Aleshire, executive director of emergency room and urgent care services at Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton.

And yet in 2013 about 3,000 people with mental health issues ended up in Harrison’s ER, for lack of other options.

Kitsap Mental Health Services, along with law enforcement officials from across Kitsap County, are proposing an alternative: a 16-bed crisis response center for people suffering from a mental health or chemical dependency crisis, where they can stay for up to five days with mental health professionals.

Kitsap is the latest county to take advantage of a 2005 state law that allows counties and cities to collect a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax — 1 cent on a $10 purchase — for treatment services.

The county estimates it will collect $3.2 million annually in sales tax to pay for mental health and chemical dependency treatment.

Kitsap Mental Health Services, along with area police departments and other mental health and chemical dependency service providers, proposed the county fund the Kitsap Crisis Triage Stabilization Center, which would serve 16 people at a time and 2,300 people annually.

The center would cost between $700,000 and $900,000 in the first year to remodel a building and hire staff. After that the program would cost $2.4 million annually to operate.

The center is just one of 15 proposals vying for the funding. Others include mental health training for police officers, substance abuse counselors at the jails and school-based mental health and substance abuse treatment.

The funding will likely fund multiple programs, said Doug Washburn, director of the Kitsap County Department of Human Services.

Washburn said all of the proposals are worthy, adding that the crisis center model has worked well in other communities.

“You have fewer people sitting inappropriately in hospitals or jails,” he said.

Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) opened the Crisis Solutions Center in the International District in 2012. The 46-bed treatment center houses people for up to 72 to hours who would otherwise end up in King County hospitals and jails.

For years, Kitsap County mental health professionals have wanted a crisis center but lacked the funding for it, said Rochelle Doan, director of agency development at Kitsap Mental Health Services.

Kitsap Mental Health’s proposed center would be smaller than the one in Seattle, but would allow patients to stay longer. People would be able to stay up to five days and meet with mental health professionals and peer counselors. Like DESC’s Crisis Solutions Center, the facility would have an open room with cubicle-like spaces for people to sleep.

Law enforcement officers, doctors at Harrison Medical Center and emergency responders would refer people to the center, with priority given to people coming from law enforcement.

Currently, officers have few places to take people in crisis, other than jail or Harrison Medical Center, said Poulsbo Police Chief Al Townsend. Most people end up back out on the street without getting the psychiatric treatment they need.

“Our jail ends up being a de facto location for treatment,” Doan said. “That’s just not the right place for it.”

The Kitsap County Commissioners appointed an 11-person citizen advisory board to review all the proposals for the $3.2 million in funding. The board will present its preferences to the county commissioners on May 28.

The Kitsap County Commissioners will make their final decision June 9.



You think this quick fix will be enough? 5 days in a facility like this? I mean, it takes a whole lot longer to stabilize a person

Dawn Lucas | submitted on 05/08/2014, 4:14pm

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