A pair of projects that would "strengthen the continuum of care" for people dealing with mental illness in the Tri-City area could become a reality by the middle of next year.
Greater Columbia Behavioral Health is applying for state money to develop two crisis centers providing varying intensities of service, and Benton County commissioners Tuesday indicated that they'll OK a letter of support. They approved placing the letter on next week's consent agenda.
Commissioners noted the idea of a consolidated crisis response center has been discussed for years, but money has been a barrier. "We slowed down, took a look, assessed, and now we're moving in the right direction with the biggest bang for the buck going this route," said Commissioner Shon Small, chairman of the board.
Franklin County commissioners are expected to discuss a similar support letter at their meeting Wednesday.
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The two counties would commit up to $1.7 million total, with the local matching money coming from the bicounty human services department's reserve funds.
One of the centers would provide shorter-term intervention services designed to prevent a crisis from deepening to the point where involuntary care is needed, officials said. The services could include up to 23 hours of respite care, assessments and referrals to resources and providers.
Greater Columbia Behavioral Health would seek a private partner -- through a request for qualifications process -- to operate the center. Ed Thornbrugh, human services director, said he hopes it would be located near the North Morain Street site in Kennewick where his department has plans to move its crisis response unit and homeless housing team.
The second crisis center would provide higher intensity services. It would have about 10 beds and "(provide) 'step down' services to those who no longer require inpatient services but are not yet ready for community placement," according to information provided to commissioners.
Greater Columbia Behavioral Health proposes to work with Lourdes Counseling Center on that center.
The 2013-14 state capital budget includes money for building evaluation and treatment or crisis facilities, county information said. Regional support networks like Greater Columbia Behavioral Health, which is based in Kennewick, can apply for shares of the funds.
Ken Roughton, director of Greater Columbia Behavioral Health, said the projects represent the "opportunity to strengthen the continuum of care" in the community.
Roughton said he expects a quick turnaround from the state in making the funding decisions.
w Commissioners in a split vote agreed to restrict drivers from parking, stopping or leaving standing their vehicles on a 0.12-mile stretch of Grosscup Road near Yakima River Drive.
The action was in response to complaints from nearby residents about noise, litter and other disturbances created by recreators who use the area to access the Yakima River.
Commissioner Jim Beaver cast the no vote, saying he's sympathetic to the residents but feels the county essentially is vacating the public road without due process or a legal avenue to do so. "The problem I have is the process and the way it's being done," he said, adding that commissioners have been advised against going down that path.
He said he may seek his own legal review of the decision.
But Small said he's been assured the restriction is legal. "We are not vacating the area; we are trying to do what we can to (address) a problem that continues," Small said.
w Sara Schilling: 582-1529; email@example.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald