There's only one place offering adult, in-patient psychiatric services to serve the county's 745,913 people: a 23-bed unit at Swedish/Edmonds hospital. Most people who need in-patient psychiatric care have to leave the county to get it.
That acute lack of psychiatric services has sparked intense competition among three for-profit companies seeking to enter the market. They are awaiting state approval for new in-patient mental health care facilities costing millions of dollars.
There are more applications by organizations seeking to open psychiatric units in Snohomish County than anywhere else in the state, said Janis Sigman, a manager for the state Department of Health.
The competition, spurred in part by additional money for mental health services through Obamacare, has led to legal challenges among the companies over which ultimately get to open the new units.
“They're fighting for market share,” said Stark, Snohomish County's human services director. “If you look statewide ... there's hundreds of millions of dollars to be made in mental health.”
Thirty more psychiatric beds are to open in the county this summer. If pending proposals are approved by the state, another 239 beds would be available. With the 23 available now, the total available in-patient beds would be 292.
Stark said he doesn't think anyone knows specifically how many in-patient psychiatric beds are needed in the county. “All we know is we don't have enough beds now,” he said.
Whichever units eventually open will likely draw patients not just from Snohomish County but from around the state. “They won't survive unless they do that,” Stark said.
The business battles began shortly after US HealthVest received state Department of Health approval in January to open an $18.8 million, 75-bed unit in Smokey Point. Two companies are challenging that decision by the state agency, with hearings scheduled in October.
US HealthVest also is asking for state approval to add another 50 psychiatric beds at the proposed Smokey Point facility, for a total of 125 beds and at an additional cost of $3.28 million.
One of the challengers of the Smokey Point facility is Fairfax Hospital of Kirkland. Fairfax is scheduled to open a 30-bed adult psychiatric unit at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett this summer. Those plans were first announced in 2012.
Fairfax is asking the state for permission to open another unit, with 34 beds, at Valley General Hospital in Monroe at a cost of $2.2 million. It will provide services to adults with severe psychiatric and medical issues and to geriatric populations, said Cammy Hart-Anderson, a division manager for Snohomish County's Human Services Department.
The request to add services in Monroe is the second plan for increased mental health services that will be discussed during today's public hearing in Lynnwood.
The state's decision on this and the US HealthVest request to add 50 psychiatric beds at Smokey Point is expected by Aug. 29.
A public hearing on the US HealthVest and Fairfax proposals is scheduled today in Lynnwood.
Fairfax operates a 100-bed in-patient psychiatric hospital in Kirkland. Fairfax officials did not respond to requests for comment on their challenge to the Smokey Point facility or their plans for the new unit in Monroe.
The second company challenging to the US HealthVest plan for Smokey Point is Cascade Behavioral Health. It operates a 63-bed psychiatric hospital in Tukwila. Cascade's parent company is Acadia Healthcare Co., which has 52 psychiatric hospitals and behavioral health facilities in 24 states.
Cascade is seeking state approval of plans to open its own $24.5 million, 80-bed psychiatric hospital for adults in Bothell. The 26,342-square-foot building is planned on the corner of 23rd Drive SE and 220th Street SE. The state Department of Health is expected make a decision by the end of this month.
Michael Uradnik, chief executive of Cascade Behavioral Health, said his company's challenge to the Smokey Point facility is based on a belief that US HealthVest did not follow proper procedure for applying to build the new facility.
“No one would argue that there isn't a need for more psychiatric in-patient care in Snohomish County,” he said.
Asked if the legal challenge might slow the time it will take for mental health units to be opened and for patients to get care, Uradnik said, “Each organization has to decide what they want to do with these appeals. I'm not sure it will slow the time it will take to get it to market.” He declined further comment.
Richard Kresh, president and chief executive of US HealthVest, said the legal challenges by competitors to his company's plans to build in Smokey Point came as no surprise.
“They challenge everything,” he said. “If you're a potential competitor to them, they will challenge it. It's purely about control of a market. They don't want competitors.”
It's too early to know whether the legal challenges to his company's plans to build in Smokey Point will significantly delay the project, Kresh said.
While the battles play out over which companies get to open new psychiatric services in the county, people who badly need mental health treatments aren't getting them, said Jim Bloss, a member and former president of the Snohomish County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The cycle that's been happening for years continues, he said. People go without services, or end up in jail or at hospital emergency rooms for hours, sometimes days, waiting to be admitted to an in-patient psychiatric units. Few beds are available.
“In effect, our people who need the help are being held hostage while the players are fighting over turf,” Bloss said. “It's competition, but in the interim, our folks end up as collateral damage.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; email@example.com.
A public hearing before the state Department of Health is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. today at the Lynnwood Public Library on two proposals for in-patient mental health units in Snohomish County. One is for a 34-bed unit at Valley General Hospital in Monroe. The other is to add 50 beds to a 75-bed hospital planned in Smokey Point. The library is at 19200 44th Ave. W in Lynnwood.
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