Mental health services expanding in county

After years of cutbacks and closures of in-patient mental health programs in Snohomish County, there are plans to open new units in Everett, Smokey Point and Monroe.

When all three are up and running, they will provide in-patient services for up to 189 people.

Today the only adult in-patient psychiatric unit in Snohomish County is at Swedish/Edmonds, which can admit a mere 23 patients at any given time. An estimated 65 percent of adults who need in-patient psychiatric care have to leave the county to get it.

One of the three new in-patient units will be on the seventh floor of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett’s Pacific Campus. The 30-bed unit is scheduled to open later this year. It will be run by Fairfax Behavioral Health, which operates a 100-bed in-patient psychiatric hospital in Kirkland. It is adding 57 additional beds there next month.

Plans for Fairfaix to open a psychiatric unit on the Everett hospital’s campus have been under way since 2012, when a public hearing was held in Everett on the proposal.

The hospital is working with Fairfax to finish a lease agreement and figure out which services Fairfax will purchase from the hospital, such as food services and housekeeping, said Ken Stone, a Providence vice president. “We’re excited to get them set up and started,” Stone said.

Fairfax officials initially hoped to open the unit last year. Those plans were slowed in part when Fairfax’s parent company announced plans to buy a New York-based company that wanted to open a psychiatric unit in Lynnwood. The state Department of Health wanted more information before approving Fairfax’s plans for the Everett unit.

Fairfax plans to open the unit on the hospital campus this summer, said Dana Ashcroft, who is overseeing the Everett project for Fairfax.

Fairfax also is involved in a second planned psychiatric unit, at Valley General Hospital in Monroe. The hospital has signed a letter of intent with Fairfax to open a 34-bed unit, said Eric Jensen, the hospital’s chief executive. The proposal awaits approval by the state Department of Health.

The unit would serve both geriatric and other adult patients, Jensen said. “It’s really a hospital within a hospital,” he said.

Valley General previously operated its own psychiatric unit, but it was closed in 2011.

Meanwhile, US HealthVest, a New York company, is planning the largest of the new in-patient mental health units. US HealthVest expects to spend $18.8 million to build a psychiatric unit on a four-acre site in Smokey Point.

The company wants initially to open a 75-bed unit and then add 50 beds at an estimated cost of $3.28 million, according to a document submitted on Jan. 29 to the state Department of Health.

The company plans to hire about 150 people and could add 100 employees if plans for the additional 50 beds are approved by the state, said Richard Kresch, the organization’s president and chief executive.

Design and construction of the building is expected to take about 24 months, Kresch said, with a projected opening in 2016.

Programs are expected to include intensive care for the most severely ill, as well as more typical adult and geriatric services and help for military personnel seeking treatment for stress and depression following their deployment. Some types of psychiatric services for adolescents also are expected to be offered.

“Being a child psychiatrist by training, I have a particular interest in youth services,” Kresch said.

Children 17 and under in Snohomish County who need treatment now must travel to Fairfax’s unit in Kirkland or Seattle Children’s Hospital — if either of them has room.

If not, sometimes children and their families have to travel to adolescent in-patient facilities in Kitsap County, Yakima or Spokane, said Pat Morris, senior director of behavioral health for Volunteers of America. “There’s a clear need for children’s (in-patient) beds,” she said.

Plans for the three in-patient psychiatric units partially fill a need that has been unmet for years in the county. In the past, psychiatric patients arriving at Providence’s emergency room in Everett, for example, had to wait an average of eight hours, sometimes as long as 24 hours, to be transferred to a hospital that provides psychiatric services, Stone said.

Psychiatric patients and their families often turn to emergency rooms during a mental health crisis because it’s a place they’re familiar with going to during a medical crisis, Morris said.

Busy emergency rooms may not be a good place for someone experiencing a mental health crisis, Morris said.

Last year, about 1,300 mental-health patients were treated at the Everett hospital’s emergency room. On average, they spent seven hours being diagnosed and treated, nearly twice as long as patients with other medical problems.

“We agree that the best care for people in a psychiatric crisis is not the emergency room,” said Cammy Hart-Anderson, a Snohomish County Human Services manager. “With the increase of these psychiatric beds in our community, we’re hopeful individuals will get the care they need when the need it.”

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

Getting help

Anyone seeking help to get psychiatric help for themselves, a family member or friend can call a 24-hour crisis line operated by Volunteers of America at 800-584-3578.

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