Family, care providers detail need for mental health beds

For years, there’s been such a lack of in-patient adult psychiatric beds in Snohomish County that many patients had to leave the county to get those services.

Now two organizations are asking to set up in-patient psychiatric units that could accommodate as many as 105 patients.

Fairfax Hospital of Kirkland wants to open a 30-bed in-patient psychiatric unit for adults early next year, leasing space on the Pacific campus of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

Ascend Health Corp., based in New York City, has proposed opening what eventually would become a 75-bed unit in Lynnwood, with the first 60 beds scheduled to open next year.

For either proposal to go forward, it must be approved by the state Department of Health. As part of that review, a pubic hearing was held in Everett on Wednesday on the plans for the psychiatric units.

Some questions were raised about what plans would be made for patients once they were discharged. Several people told their stories of life with a mental illness to underscore the need for more local in-patient psychiatric services.

LaurieAnn Sigler, of Marysville, said she has been hospitalized at Fairfax in Kirkland 22 times in 13 years.

“We desperately need more psychiatric beds in Snohomish County,” she said. “There are many people who need this service and are unable to get into a psychiatric bed because none are available. That’s where the danger lies.”

Plans for a patient’s discharge begin the day the patient is admitted to Fairfax, she said. The hospital works with patients to coordinate their housing and medications.

Her husband, Dennis Sigler, said that he was concerned that many people assume “because you’re mentally ill, you’re a danger.

From his dealings with Fairfax, Sigler said he’s convinced the hospital would not release people who are a danger.

“What is needed is more help for those who are mentally ill,” he said.

Andy Evich said that he helps lead meetings of a bipolar support group in Everett.

“Probably one of the greatest fears of those who come to our group … is what happens when I have a major episode; where can I feel safe?” he said.

Most of the treatment options are located outside Snohomish County, which can make it difficult for friends and family to visit and tough for the patient to get care from his or her psychiatrist, he said.

Ken Stone, a vice president at Providence’s Everett hospital, said that 65 percent of people in Snohomish County who need inpatient hospital psychiatric care have to leave the county to get care.

Psychiatric patients arriving at the hospital’s emergency department have to wait an average of eight hours, sometimes as long as 24 hours, to be transferred to a hospital that provides psychiatric services, he said.

If there’s no place to transfer the patient, Providence keeps them in its emergency department or admits the patient to observation units until they can be transferred, Stone said.

“On a typical day, we have four voluntary and four involuntary inpatient mental health patients under close observation,” Stone said. Staff often have to be assigned to sit and monitor the patients, requiring about 1,500 hours of staff time in the past month, Stone said.

Approval of Fairfax’s plans for an inpatient psychiatric unit “will allow residents to obtain quality psychiatric services close to home,” he said.

Greg Long, deputy director of the North Sound Mental Health Administration, which helps pay for mental health services for the uninsured, said that he supported efforts to bring more inpatient mental health beds to the area, but noted there were no plans to have units for children or geriatric patients.

He also said he thought the state agency should carefully consider if all 105 proposed psychiatric beds are needed.

Shelley Weyer, who lives in Everett, said she was concerned about Fairfax’s communication with the community.

“To me, there’s been a lack of information, which causes people to become concerned or afraid,” she said.

Ron Escarda, Fairfax’s chief executive, said his organization would be glad to respond to invitations from community groups to talk about their proposal.

“We don’t want people to be concerned about what we’re doing … and why,” he said.

Ascend Health Corp. didn’t have a representative at the meeting. Instead, it submitted a 15-page document outlining its proposal, which includes opening 60 adult psychiatric beds in Lynnwood next year and an additional 15 beds in 2015.

The state Department of Health is expected to complete its review of both proposed psychiatric units in July.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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