More help soon for mental health care in Everett

With only one in-patient mental health unit in Snohomish County, an estimated 60 percent of adults who need this care have to leave the county to get treatment.

That will change next year, when a new 30-bed unit is set to open on the Pacific campus of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

The new unit “is really going to be a godsend for our folks who have needed not only access to mental health care but a place to go to be treated,” said Jim Bloss, president of the Snohomish County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Now, adult patients needing in-patient mental health care often end up in hospital rooms or emergency departments waiting to be transferred to psychiatric units, he said.

“It doesn’t mean they’ll get mental health care while they’re there,” Bloss said. “This will change that.”

Fairfax Hospital, which operates a 95-bed psychiatric hospital in Kirkland, plans to spend $3.9 million to renovate space it will lease on the seventh floor of a building on Providence’s Pacific campus.

The unit is scheduled to open by August 2013, said Ron Escarda, chief executive of the Kirkland psychiatric hospital.

Snohomish County has some of the worst access to in-patient psychiatric care in the state, with about 3.5 beds per 100,000 population, according to documents submitted to the state Department of Health by Fairfax.

About one-third of all adults in Snohomish County who need in-patient psychiatric services are treated at Fairfax’s Kirkland hospital.

The only in-patient psychiatric services available for adults in Snohomish County is an 18-bed unit at Swedish/Edmonds, which treated 546 patients last year.

Everett’s former General Hospital Medical Center, which later merged with Providence, closed its psychiatric unit in 1991.

“The reality is, this community is underserved for mental health,” said Dave Brooks, Providence’s chief executive. “It’s actually a surprise, if you look at a hospital of our size, that we don’t already have an in-patient psychiatric unit.”

Having the psychiatric unit on the Everett hospital’s campus should reduce the amount of time patients have been kept waiting in emergency rooms to be admitted to a psychiatric unit, Escarda said.

The new unit will reduce the need for psychiatric patients to be kept in non-psychiatric settings, he said. “That’s not a good standard of care for anyone.”

The typical stay for patients in Fairfax’s psychiatric units is 10 days. The new psychiatric unit will have a staff of up to 50 employees.

Earlier this year, Ken Stone, a Providence vice president, said that psychiatric patients arriving at the hospital’s emergency room typically wait eight hours and sometimes as long as 24 hours, to be transferred to a hospital that provides psychiatric services.

During a public hearing in May, some Everett residents raised questions about security and discharge plans for the patients.

Stone noted that the history of Fairfax’s Kirkland hospital dates back 85 years. He said a neighbor that lives within two blocks of that hospital told him there had never been any security concerns.

Providence will share security responsibilities with Fairfax, with the hospital responsible for general safety issues on its hospital campus.

Fairfax will have the responsibility for security on the psychiatric unit itself, Escarda said. No one will be able to enter or leave the unit without going through double-locked doors.

“We think that it not only makes the hospital, but also the surrounding community more secure,” Escarda said. “They’ll be treated in a locked, secure environment where they otherwise might be in the community or different areas of the hospital in a non-secure environment.”

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

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