We Need a Mental Health Crisis Center

Letter to the community from Ted Wheeler, October 15 2008

About two years ago I agreed to serve as a “co-sponsor” of an initiative launched by Mayor Tom Potter to examine public safety and mental health services in the wake of the tragic death of Jim Chasse, a person who was experiencing severe mental illness. One of our most important recommendations was for the creation of a facility that would provide brief residential treatment and substantive psychiatric and medical services. We still don’t have such a facility.

A Mental Health Crisis Center Would Reduce Expensive Hospitalization

Currently the only option for people who are experiencing bouts of severe mental illness is a hospital bed. There are not enough psychiatric beds in our region or in our state and they are very expensive. While hospitalization is an important resource for people with mental illness, adding a “sub-acute” (less than hospitalization) option would better meet the needs of many people and would increase the availability of hospital beds for those with higher levels of need.

A Mental Health Crisis Center Would Help Law Enforcement

Because hospitals are currently the only option and beds are in short supply, too often people with mental illness spend long periods in a police car as the police try and find a place to take them. This diverts law enforcement from other duties and does no good for the person with mental illness.

A Mental Health Crisis Center Would Relieve Pressure on Jails

Tragically, hundreds of people with mental illness are housed in our jails. In some cases, there has been serious criminal behavior and the individual must be jailed to protect public safety. In other cases, people are in jail because there is inadequate mental health treatment in the community. Jail is very expensive and it is not a good treatment option.

A Mental Health Crisis Center Would Support Recovery

The real answer for many people experiencing mental illness is a continuum of supports that bolster recovery and help maintain housing, social networks and employment. Hospitalization interrupts recovery. Untreated episodes of severe mental illness disrupt housing, employment and social supports.

Running a Center is Harder to Pay For than Opening One

The cost estimates for starting up a center are about $3 million. The County has committed the first million and I am optimistic that we can find the other two million through partnerships with other funders. The ongoing annual operating costs were estimated at $2.9 million and that will be harder to sustain. Multiple partners and funding streams will need to be combined and we are working with the State of Oregon, the City of Portland, hospitals and others to find that funding. The reason we don’t yet have a Mental Health Crisis Center is that we have not yet found sufficient sources of funding for the ongoing operating costs.

I will continue to advocate for the creation of a mental health crisis center to provide sub-acute services including evaluation and treatment. Specifically, I will be urging the Oregon Legislature to provide funding. I invite you to join me in that effort.

READ – Improving mental health services