Commissioners sign contract to build mental health crisis center

Whidbey Island is a step closer to having its first facility for helping its most vulnerable citizens without taking them to the emergency room or jail.

County commissioners recently chose the contractor to build what will be the only crisis stabilization center in Island County. The board voted to approve an approximately $5.2-million contract to build a 10-bed, short-term facility meant to provide services for people experiencing mental health and/or substance use crises.

The county received about $5 million from the state capital budget for the project and has set aside 1/10th of 1 percent sales tax revenue, which is earmarked for behavioral health. The center, which will be located on NE 10th Avenue in Oak Harbor, will serve Island, San Juan and part of Skagit counties.

An analysis of data found Island County residents were over-utilizing beds in other facilities in the North Sound area, according to a fact sheet prepared by the county’s human services department. The analysis also found a significant need in the area, which is why the new center will be considered a “tri-county” facility.

The operations at the crisis center will be performed by a health care provider and paid for by insurance, managed care organizations and some private payment.

While discussing costs associated with building the new facility at a work session last week, Commissioner Jill Johnson noted that the project might be eligible for certain grant programs to help offset its costs.

“This facility is going to create jobs in the community,” she said, adding that rural economic development infrastructure grants are an example of a potential funding source.

Tiger Construction Ltd.’s bid came in about 6.8 percent over the county’s estimated cost, Facilities Management Director Larry Van Horn told commissioners Wednesday. However, the county will still have about 14.5 percent of the total cost as contingency, which is a “pretty healthy” contingency, Van Horn said.

The crisis center will be for voluntary admittance only for short-term residential stays, with referrals to outpatient or long-term inpatient care with discharge.

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