Vancouver could become the first city in the state to see a new mental health evaluation and treatment facility intended to treat patients in a more intimate setting closer to home. It’s part of the state’s shift toward regional mental health treatment centers and less reliance on Western State Hospital, a large psychiatric facility in Lakewood.
“We are so under-bedded in the state of Washington,” said Ken Taylor, special assistant at the Department of Social and Health Services’ Behavioral Health Administration.
The agency is planning a 48-bed behavioral health community that would provide 90- and 180-day stays under the Involuntary Treatment Act. The law allows people to be civilly committed to hospitals or treatment settings if a judge finds they pose a threat to themselves or others.
The campus would consist of either two or three secure, locked buildings divided into three units with 16 beds apiece. Some rooms would be shared, while others would be private. The buildings would also have areas for group activities, laundry rooms, a kitchen and an outdoor area surrounded by a chain-link fence with anti-climb fabric, according to pre-application documents submitted to the city of Vancouver.
The state is eyeing property adjacent to and owned by Columbia River Mental Health Services in the Bagley Downs neighborhood.
In theory, patients could transition to outpatient treatment at Columbia River Mental Health Services. Craig Pridemore, CEO of Columbia River Mental Health Services, said the facility would be ancillary to what his organization does, adding that he would be interested in operating at least one of the buildings.
Initially, the 48-bed campus off Fourth Plain Boulevard would serve the Southwest Washington region. The goal someday — when there are more available treatment beds statewide — is it would be a facility just for Clark County residents, Taylor said.
“We envision creating a number of these facilities up and down the I-5 corridor,” Taylor said. “We don’t have nearly enough community alternatives to the hospital.”
Currently, there are no such alternatives in Clark County, he said. After the state began planning this 48-bed facility last year, for-profit mental health service provider Telecare shut down its 11-bed facility.
Taylor said hundreds of people are waiting to get into Western State Hospital. Meanwhile, some patients stay there longer than necessary because they don’t have anywhere to go after treatment. There’s also a mismatch in people who need long-term treatment ending up in short-term facilities because that’s what’s available. Washington ranks 47th nationwide in capacity for appropriate mental health services.
Patients get shuffled around a lot, so it’s hard to tell how many Clark County residents are in long-term treatment beds elsewhere in the state. Taylor said that when he visited private psychiatric hospital Fairfax Behavioral Health in Kirkland, there were more Clark County residents there than residents of any other county. This was after Telecare closed, forcing locals to be sent north for treatment.
While Taylor hopes to begin construction in about 12 months, he acknowledged that’s “probably optimistic.” Behavior health facilities are hard to locate due in part to the stigma associated with mental health. The Department of Social and Health Services studied the viability of locating a behavioral health community in five other sites around Clark County besides the parcel in Bagley Downs. If the state purchases the land from Columbia River Mental Health Services, neighbors will be notified by certified mail.
“First and foremost, it would be a safe facility,” Taylor said.
A smaller 16-bed facility may be constructed in Thurston County around the same time.
Taylor said the Legislature devoted $20 million in initial funding for the Clark County project and $5 million for the Thurston County project.