Lourdes Health took command of the Benton-Franklin Crisis Response Unit on Oct. 1, adding it to a stable of nearly two dozen mental health programs it provides in the region.
Officials say the transition from county-run operation to private has gone smoothly in the first week. Lourdes contracted to respond to residents having mental health crises after the Benton and Franklin county commissions decided to stop providing the service through the Benton-Franklin Human Services Department.
Greater Columbia Behavioral Health, which provides mental health services in 10 counties, recruited Lourdes to step in. Lourdes hired many of the former county employees who staffed the crisis unit. It also leased the the unit’s offices in Kennewick and retained its old phone number.
The primary change is a modest name change: The unit is part of Lourdes Crisis Services.
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Denise Clapp, chief nursing officer for the Lourdes Health, said the crisis unit is operating at the same staffing level as it was before the transition, with about 14 mental health professionals plus support staff. That will change.
The Benton-Franklin Crisis Response Unit, operated by Lourdes Counseling, is at 500 N. Morain St., Suite 1250, Kennewick. Phone number is 509-783-0500 or 800-783-0544. It is staffed 24 hours, seven days a week.
Lourdes is recruiting employees to improve staffing as it beefs up its ability to respond to calls for help. In the longer term, she said it hopes to deploy a mobile unit to respond to crises where they are happening.
The crisis unit fields calls and visits from people having mental health crises as well as their families, hospitals, law enforcement and others. The Kennewick office serves as a walk-in counseling center and a dispatch center for counselors, who frequently assess people in hospitals and jails. 911 dispatchers send calls to the crisis unit.
The Benton and Franklin commissions backed out of providing services, saying the county-led program was failing families seeking help with often heartbreaking results. Too, the counties are preparing to transition mental health services to private contractors under new state rules that take effect in 2020.
Benton County Commission Chairman Shon Small praised the transition, calling it a good step toward improving the community’s response to people in crisis.
“The only thing we can do is get a better system tomorrow than we have today,” he said during a media tour of Lourdes’ Kennewick office and the Richland treatment center.
Lourdes Counseling operates a 22-bed inpatient unit for adults and a 16-bed transition unit for people who need a place to stabilize after a crisis at its Richland campus, which flanks Kadlec Regional Medical Center.
Most in-patient clients are involuntarily committed and stay an average of 10 days before being released to the community. In some cases, patients are sent to longer-term psychiatric institutions such as Eastern State Hospital.
The unit, renovated nine years ago, offers plain but private rooms circling a common area, an enclosed patio and exercise equipment. It is locked, but rooms are not.
The transition unit has a similar layout and serves patients who may remain for up to two weeks.