Representatives from Island County recently presented plans for the island’s first crisis stabilization center and sub-acute detox facility. The center, meant to provide services for Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties, will be located in Oak Harbor and is anticipated to open in fall 2019.
The voluntary center would be run by a behavioral health organization and offer temporary stabilization for individuals in a mental health or chemical dependency crisis as well as an individualized discharge plan for continuation of care based on needs.
“This will really serve a need that we have for a lot of individuals in our community,” said Jackie Henderson, county human services director at a public meeting.
Many in attendance agreed with Henderson’s statement and expressed appreciation for the project. Others said it was a good step, but thought the proposed eight-bed facility might be too small to fill such a large need.
Henderson and facilities director Larry Van Horn said the center will be designed so it can expand to up to 16 beds, which is the maximum allowed in order to receive Medicaid funding.
The property was purchased by Island County in December using homeless housing funds and mental health sales taxes, and the facility will be built using funding secured in the state capital budget by the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization. Some felt there should have been opportunities for public input before the property was purchased.
“So you’re going to go ahead with this and do it no matter what we say or do?” one woman asked.
County Commissioner Jill Johnson defended the action.
While trying to purchase the property, the county didn’t want to publicize its intentions to ensure a fair price, Johnson explained. The delay of the passage of the state capital budget also factored into the decision not to do more outreach, because the county was unsure if funding would be available. She also said that because the area is zoned correctly for this purpose and the funding used to purchase it was dedicated funding, she felt it was within the county’s authority to move forward.
“When you elect people, you elect them to make the best decisions they can make on your behalf,” Johnson responded. “We don’t take a poll on every decision or you wouldn’t need elected officials … I understand that you may not agree and you certainly don’t have to agree and you can be upset that the decision was made without you, but we’re also paving roads this year and we didn’t ask.”
Another person in the audience said they’re concerned that the facility would be tax exempt.
“The problem is it’s going to wind up creating another hole that we don’t get any tax money from in Oak Harbor,” the man said.
Others expressed concern about its location.
One man said Coupeville seems a more appropriate location because the hospital and jail are in the town. Johnson and Henderson said they spent more than two years looking for other properties, and this one was the best they could find.
One woman asked if the facility would be close to a site being considered for ball fields by the city.
The proposed location for the fields is on Gun Club Road, just under a mile away. Johnson said that the property for the ball fields has not yet been purchased by the city, and that question would be best asked of Mayor Bob Severns. She also stressed that the people who will be admitted to this facility are not likely to be dangerous, because those who are considered a danger to themselves or others are taken to an involuntary facility off island.
“I want to be careful that when we’re asking questions that we’re also not stigmatizing,” said Johnson.
Sheriff Mark Brown reiterated that deputies within his department would not release individuals who are considered dangerous. The department provides transportation to people in either mental health or chemical dependency crisis to off-island facilities, and he said having these services closer will be beneficial to his office.
“I understand everybody’s trepidation about this, but these are the folks that traditionally we don’t think of as violent,” Brown said. “As difficult of a conversation as it is, I do think its the reality out there that we have folks that this facility would help,” he later added.
Several people in the audience asked if residents of the facility would be brought in from other counties. Henderson said people from outside Island County will be accepted at the facility, but transportation into Oak Harbor won’t be provided.
Henderson and Johnson said surrounding counties, except for San Juan, already have these types of facilities so it’s unlikely many would travel to Oak Harbor for care.
Transportation would be provided from the facility after discharge for people who live outside Island County, Henderson said. Patients who are leaving the facility will be referred to outpatient facilities, housing support resources or whatever fits the individual’s needs, she said.
“It’s not going to be a place where they are just let go, and then they’re going to wander the streets here,” she said.
“It’s so much more controlled than that. It really is.”