County pieces together new mental health facility

From the Portland Tribune, August 31 2008

Hooper Detox Center move could free space in housing project

When James Chasse Jr. died in police custody in 2006, Portland cops didn’t know he was schizophrenic, and didn’t have an appropriate place to bring him even if they had known.

Now county officials think they have such a place on the inner east side.

Multnomah County is working on a public-private partnership with Central City Concern to build a mental health evaluation and assessment facility in the Central City’s David P. Hooper Detoxification Center, east of the Burnside Bridge.

Central City Concern plans to break ground early next year on a $23 million low-income housing project at the former Ramada Inn at Northeast Third Avenue and Weidler, said Ed Blackburn, Central City Concern executive director. The 52-bed Hooper Detox Center will be moved into the building, he said. That would free up space for a mental health evaluation and assessment facility on the second floor of the current Hooper facility, said.

“It’s not a done deal,” said Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler. “But I think we’ve made great strides forward. I’m fairly confident we’re moving forward.”

The county has lacked an appropriate place to screen potentially mentally ill people picked up on the streets since it pulled the plug on the Providence Crisis Triage Center early this decade.

The Hooper facility would continue to house the county-funded “sobering” center run by Central City Concern. That’s where inebriated people are lodged for several hours until they sober up. Some are later transferred to the detox center, where they are under round-the-clock professional care to help them on the road to recovery.
Operating funds hard to come by

Putting the mental health screening center near the sobering center makes sense for operational purposes, but it also may be an easier place to site it, Wheeler said.

“Inebriation often masks mental health symptoms,” he said.

“It’s often very difficult for law enforcement people or even medical practitioners to always tell someone who’s in a mental health crisis from someone who is intoxicated,” Blackburn said. “Some people are both having a mental health breakdown and/or intoxicated.”

The mental health evaluation center would have 16 beds, and people could stay there up to 14 days. It would cost $3 million to build and $3 million a year to operate.

Wheeler made the project one of his top priorities in the 2008-09 county budget, and set aside $1 million for construction. Portland Development Commission has allotted $2 million from its central eastside urban renewal funding, Blackburn said.

The ongoing operational funds will be harder to come by, Wheeler said. But he recently convinced seven health-related companies to chip in a total of $600,000 to operate the Hooper facility. Hospitals, health insurers and others save money when inebriated people are treated at Hooper instead of being lodged in hospital emergency rooms.

The same entities could save money if mentally ill people are properly evaluated at a new intake center, rather than dropped off at emergency rooms. Portland police would save money as well, because officers now wait hours for people receiving treatment in the emergency room.

Wheeler said he’ll go back to some of the same groups that helped pay for Hooper services, to see if they could chip into the mental health evaluation center operating costs.

“I think we have started a very strong partnership,” he said. “We all have a vested financial interest in it.”

Central City Concern isn’t proposing this in an effort to expand, Blackburn. The nonprofit would be perfectly content if another entity were contracted by the county to run it. The agency wants to help because the facility is sorely needed, he said.

OUR COMMENT – This was a very good idea two years ago, when the Mayor’s task force on Public Safety and Mental Illness proposed opening a sub-acute psychiatric facility, replacing the Crisis Triage Center, closed after community complaints about poor management and high costs. But it’s been two years -so with a reluctant vendor, we’re not holding out collective breath the County can find the continuing operating costs to open this facility.