Mental health crisis triage center to open at Lourdes in Richland

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldNovember 13, 2013 

Mental Health Facility

A mental health crisis triage center will open at Lourdes Counseling Center in Richland next year.

RICHARD DICKIN — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

A mental health crisis triage center will open at Lourdes Counseling Center in Richland next year.

The project -- proposed to help address a gap in the local continuum of care -- has been picked for $2.1 million in funding, largely from the state.

Officials said it's an important project for the community and one that comes as the result of much discussion, collaboration and planning.

"We're very excited," said Tim Hoekstra, director of outpatient services for Lourdes Counseling Center. "This is a great addition that will provide support the community needs."

The regional support network, Greater Columbia Behavioral Health, applied for the money, with the plan that Lourdes Counseling Center would operate the program. The Benton-Franklin human services department is kicking in a large portion of the local share, contributing more than $700,000 in reserve money.

The 16-bed triage center will be housed at Lourdes Counseling Center, in space that previously held an adolescent in-patient unit. It will act as a step-down and a step-up in care -- a place where people can be helped before their crisis deepens to the point that hospitalization is needed and also where they can transition after leaving a psychiatric hospital stay.

It will be the only center of its kind in the Tri-Cities. Officials said they will consult with groups such as law enforcement, local mental health providers and mental health care consumer groups as the crisis triage center comes together.

The triage center will help ease pressure on the limited number of in-patient psychiatric hospital beds in Benton and Franklin counties, they said.

Lourdes Counseling Center currently has 22 of those kinds of beds in operation, and they're the only ones in the two counties.

Officials expect demand to increase even more next year when a change in state law expands the scope of information that can be used in determining whether someone should be involuntarily committed.

Nationwide, Washington has the second-fewest number of in-patient psychiatric beds available per capita, officials have said.

"We're always on the lookout for new ways to continue to meet the needs of our community. As a team, this group worked together to be creative and find opportunities to meet those needs that the community is desperate for," said Melanie Johnston, Lourdes spokeswoman.

The timeline for opening up the crisis triage facility is accelerated. Barbara Mead, vice president of behavioral health and physician clinics for Lourdes Health Network, said at least 10 beds must be in service by July 1 of next year.

Meier Architecture and Engineering already has been picked for the project, and the contractor selection process is under way, Mead said.

She noted that mental illness is something that touches many lives. The National Alliance on Mental Illness said the number is at least one in four adults and one in 10 children in the U.S.

Officials said that while the crisis triage center will help address a gap in service, there still are other mental health care system needs in the Tri-Cities. Hoekstra said he feels the crisis triage project will invite even more discussion about those needs and how to address them.

Ed Thornbrugh, director of the Benton-Franklin human services department, added that while Lourdes will be doing the "heavy lifting" in the coming few months on crisis triage, other partners will have more time to focus on addressing those other needs now that the project is becoming a reality. "This can carry the whole system forward," he said.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529;; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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