Peninsula Behavioral Health Executive Director Peter Casey

Peninsula Behavioral Health Executive Director Peter Casey

New respite center to offer help for mental health crises

PORT ANGELES — When turmoil roils a person’s mind, there’ll soon be a new safe harbor from the storm.

Peninsula Behavioral Health plans to open a respite center next to its headquarters at 118 E. Eighth St. next week, a six-bed facility that mental health advocates have sought for decades.

“They were working on this way back in the ’80s,” said Lorraine Wall, director of nursing at Olympic Medical Center, whose emergency department will benefit from the new refuge.

The Clallam County Respite Center — to which admission is strictly voluntary — will allow clients to seek residential treatment for mental health crises, said Peter Casey, Peninsula Behavioral Health executive director.

For Wall, that means people can get help before they become threats to their own health or to others and thus be involuntarily detained.

OMC can detain such patients up to 72 hours before transferring them to a full-time mental health center such as Kitsap Mental Health Services in Bremerton.

“The idea [of the respite center] is that they don’t get to that point,” she said Thursday, but instead receive medication and counseling. “That will greatly benefit those individuals.”

It also will give law enforcement officers an alternative to jailing people who are having mental health crises.

Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict told the Peninsula Daily News, “The headline should read: ‘The sheriff said the respite center is awesome.’ ”

He noted, however, that it wouldn’t divert from jail those people “who prove to be unmanageable,” nor was it a lockdown facility.

Costs per bed per day, he said, would be roughly the same at the respite center as at the Clallam County jail.

Still, “for those people who follow the rules and do want to assist in their rehabilitation, I think that’s great,” Benedict added.

Those clients probably would include offenders diverted to the center through Mental Health Court, he said.

Other referrals will come from private doctors and through recommendations from OMC’s emergency department.

Some, said Wendy Sisk, Peninsula Behavioral Health clinical director, would simply walk in.

The center can accept people who live between the east end of Lake Crescent to the Jefferson County line. People who live farther west are clients of West End Outreach.

Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher recalled when then-Olympic Memorial Hospital had “what we called a behavioral medicine ward” where police could drop off people in crisis.

It closed for budgetary reasons in 1989, he said.

“It’s been a sorely missed resource all these years by law enforcement personnel,” he said.

“There’s definitely a need for it in this community.”

Carla Jacobi, police records specialist, said this year has seen 180 mental health hospitalizations from Port Angeles police under the Involuntary Treatment Act for mentally disordered people taken into protective custody.

Both Benedict and Gallagher lamented that police, deputies and other first responders are pressed into dispensing mental health care.

“Our mental health system is broken,” Gallagher said. “A good indicator of that is how often police are searching for solutions to what should be medical concerns, not law enforcement.

“I’m excited to see a different resource in this area.”

“Those of us who have had family members in crisis and had them sent as far away as Yakima or Bellingham for treatment truly appreciate this center and the people who made it a reality,” said Margi Ahlgren, board member with the Clallam County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“Families are essential in a treatment team and usually want to be with the son, daughter, parent or spouse whose brain is sick, just as if the heart, lungs or any part of the body were ill. This center makes that possible in most situations.

“NAMI of Clallam County is a voice for families, and we thank our community leaders and Peninsula Behavioral Health staff for their humane and diligent work.”

The respite center joins the 19-bed Arlene Engel Home residential center, and discussions are underway to develop a drop-off detox center for people overdosed on drugs or alcohol.

For Peninsula Behavioral Health, a major benefit of the respite center will be treating patients in Port Angeles and not having to send them to Bremerton or Western State Hospital in Lakewood.

“The more money that we have to sped on [out-of-town] hospitalizations, the less we have for outpatient services here,” Casey said.

The Affordable Care Act, Casey said, has boosted the number of people seeking mental health help.

Since Jan. 1, Peninsula Behavioral Health has added 790 clients due to the expansion of Medicaid services under the act.

Meanwhile, eastern Clallam County is allowed to fill seven beds at Western State Hospital. One is reserved for West End Outreach.

If the agencies’ patients occupy more than their allocated beds, the state fines the mental health organizations.

Initial design of the respite center began about a year ago, Casey said.

It cost $370,000 to turn the old thrift store-turned-Eagles Lodge into a mental health facility with funds from the state, OMC, Clallam County and community donations.

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Reporter James Casey can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at [email protected]

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