A mental health crisis triage center could open in the Tri-Cities next year.
The project is dependent on winning funding through the state, and local officials should know in late November or December whether their proposal made the cut.
They're hopeful, saying the service is greatly needed.
The goal "is to provide a service in the community that will help address the gaps in our spectrum of care," said Barbara Mead, vice president of behavioral health and physician clinics for Lourdes Health Network.
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The regional support network Greater Columbia Behavioral Health applied for the funding, with the idea that Lourdes Counseling Center would operate the program if the money comes through.
The 16-bed unit would be housed at the counseling center facility in Richland, using space that formerly held an adolescent in-patient unit.
Officials are seeking $2.5 million from the state for the project, with the Benton-Franklin human services department kicking in some reserve dollars as matching money if the application is successful.
The unit would be a place for people who are in crisis but don't need the more intensive care of an in-patient psychiatric hospital. It would serve as a step-up or step-down in care -- a place where a crisis could be dealt with before it heightens to the point where a hospital commitment is needed, or a place where a patient coming out of an in-patient hospital stay could spend time before moving down another step in care.
Lourdes Counseling Center has the only in-patient psychiatric hospital beds in Benton and Franklin counties. When they're full, local patients in crisis can end up staying at one of the area's other hospitals through a process known as single-bed certification -- a situation that's far from ideal and that's happening with growing frequency, officials told the Herald.
And officials expect demand for in-patient psychiatric beds to grow even more next year with a change in state law that expands the scope of information that can be used when determining whether someone should be involuntarily committed.
As the demand increases, a lower-level care option is needed to take some of the pressure off, said Tim Hoekstra, director of outpatient services for Lourdes Counseling Center.
Mead noted that Washington state has the second-fewest number of in-patient psychiatric beds available per capita in the nation.
She said the goal would be to have the new unit up and running as soon as possible in 2014.
She and Hoekstra said officials would consult with law enforcement, others in the mental health field and mental health care consumer groups on the specific design of the program.
Greater Columbia Behavioral Health also considered going after funding for a mental health respite center but ultimately dropped that proposal.
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; email@example.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald