New mental health center fills a gap for police, patients

From the Portland Tribune, June 17, 2010

Portland police and other emergency service providers will have a new place to bring mentally ill people in crisis besides the county jail or local hospitals.

Multnomah County, the city of Portland and the nonprofit Central City Concern reached a final deal Thursday, June 17, to build and operate a mental health intake center above the Hooper “sobering center” east of the Burnside Bridge, 20 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Groundbreaking for the new Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center is planned in August, with completion expected about six months later.

The $5.3 million facility will feature professional and peer counselors who can work with mentally ill people experiencing breakdowns or other crises, and 16 beds where they can be lodged in a safe, dormitory-style setting.

Officials have talked about the need for such a center for years. But the need became more urgent in the aftermath of the September 2006 death of James Chasse Jr., a schizophrenic, who died in police custody from serious injuries suffered when he was tackled during his arrest. Two others – the Jan. 29 shooting of Aaron Campbell at a Sandy Boulevard apartment complex, and the May 12 shooting of Keaton Dupree Otis in the Lloyd District – also involved people who were said to suffer from various mental illnesses.

Emergency services providers often lack the skills to identify and handle mentally ill people undergoing episodes or outbreaks, and the results can sometimes be tragic.

“This helps fill a very important gap in our mental health system,” said County Chair Jeff Cogen, after the cooperative agreement was finalized with the city and Central City Concern, which operates the Hooper center. The complex agreement, in the works more than two years, called for Central City Concern to relocate its Hooper Detox Center to a renovated facility at a former Ramada Inn, at North Williams Avenue and Weidler Street near the Rose Quarter.

Drunks picked up by police or other authorities are brought to the sobering center for medical treatment until they sober up, and then moved to the detox center, a residential program that allows them to continue to receive substance abuse treatment.

The new mental health intake center was seen as a good fit for the sobering center on the ground floor.

The new facility isn’t going to solve all the problems with the mental health system in the city and the county, said Central City Concern Executive Director Ed Blackburn. But “not a week goes by” when there isn’t a need for such a facility, he said.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams helped expedite the allocation of $2 million in promised city urban renewal funds to speed up development of the intake center. The state provided $1 million, the county put up $842,000 and $1.4 million came from New Market tax credits.

Operating the center will require more than $3 million a year, most of it from federal and state Medicaid funds. The city and county agreed to split the remaining costs, which are estimated at $550,000 a year for each entity, said Dave Austin, a county spokesman for human services programs.

Multnomah County will seek bids from an outside entity to operate the new Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center, Austin said.

Central City Concern could be one of the nonprofit or other groups bidding to run the program.