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Plans in works for Island County mental health center

South Whidbey Record - 12/3/2017

Island County is in the process of securing property in Oak Harbor for a regional crisis stabilization center and affordable housing complex.

The board of commissioners voted unanimously to purchase the seven-acre parcel located on North Oak Harbor Street.

The $1.1 million for the property came from the county's homeless fund and mental health sales taxes. Another $4 million for construction of the center will be requested from the state's capital budget.

"[Rep.] Norma Smith is our champion of capital funding," said Commissioner Jill Johnson.

If the funding is secured, the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization will fund the operations of the facility. The county currently plans use the front acre to build a center with between 6 and 10 beds that could be expanded to up to 16 beds, which is the maximum capacity allowed to receive Medicaid reimbursements. The center would serve Island, San Juan and Skagit counties with mental health and chemical dependency crisis services. Individuals could be only be voluntarily admitted and would receive temporary care.

"It's for people who are feeling they are in some sort of crisis…they feel they need to go somewhere where they're safe for a couple of days," said Jackie Henderson, director of Island County Human Services. The maximum stay would likely be about two weeks, and care would include a discharge plan, she said.

The remaining six acres would be used for supportive housing for income-eligible individuals. The property is close to existing services such as Sea Mar, which provides chemical dependency services, and Compass Health, which provides mental health treatment. There is also a bus line and potential employment opportunities nearby.

"It's just the perfect spot,"said Johnson.

The sale of the property won't be complete until the feasibility studies are finished in January. Starting at the beginning of next year, the county will begin public outreach regarding the project.

"Just so nobody feels surprised and to address concerns, if there are any," said Johnson.

She said no one should be concerned about the safety of living nearby the facility because the individuals who would be served are already in the community but without access to the treatment and services they need. With this center, they will receive care instead of ending up on the street or in jail.

"I don't live here, but I would live here," she said.

She said the county will continue outreach as the project expands, and public input will factor into the decision about which type of supportive housing would best meet community needs. Johnson named veterans assistance and supportive recovery for mental health or chemical dependency as potential options.

"It's not that you just construct it and walk away, all these types of housing come with treatment," said Johnson.

All of the services provided would be steps in the recovery process, but none of them would be intended to be permanent, she said. The goal would be to help people become as independent as possible.

The county will own the property and building, but will hire an outside behavioral health organization to operate the facilities. However, there are still a significant number of hurdles to overcome before groundbreaking can occur. Johnson said that, while she's excited about the project, she's still hesitant to get her hopes up too much.

Talks for a center like this began with Skagit and San Juan counties about four years ago. The idea was originally to have the facility near Sedro-Woolley, but Skagit county officials had been unsuccessful in finding a suitable property. Because of the lack of availability there, Johnson started looking in the Oak Harbor area.

Johnson credits Skagit County Commissioner Ken Dalstedt with keeping the project idea alive over the years, and the county is excited about the property she found instead.

"I don't know if it will get any better than this if we pull this off," she said.


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