Lourdes Counseling will respond to mental health emergencies when Benton-Franklin Human Services steps out of its crisis response role at the end of September.
Ken Roughton, director of Greater Columbia Behavioral Health, said the regional agency expects to sign a contract with Lourdes within two weeks.
Lourdes is the only organization interested in taking over the crisis response contract and the only one big enough to be ready to do so when the county-run agency stops taking calls Sept. 30, Roughton said.
Lourdes already provides inpatient and outpatient counseling services to Greater Columbia. It has applied to the state for the appropriate license to manage crisis response work, Roughton said.
Lourdes is expected to hire many of the 20 or so county employees who staff the crisis response unit. It will operate the program from the same leased space as well, and could absorb some of the administrative costs.
“Same people. Same building. The biggest change will be who administers the program,” Roughton said.
Same people. Same building. The biggest change will be who administers the program.
Ken Roughton, Greater Columbia Behavioral Health
The elected commissions of Benton and Franklin counties jointly agreed in June to stop handling mental health emergencies through the human services department. They formally notified Greater Columbia of the decision a few weeks later.
Greater Columbia is a 10-county agency responsible for administering behavioral health services in Benton, Franklin and surrounding counties. Its portfolio includes crisis response, substance abuse, mental health and related services.
Generally, it contracts with private companies to provide services in the communities it covers. In Benton and Franklin counties, that contract was held by the Benton-Franklin Human Services department.
Roughton said it was the the only contract in which the government, rather than a private entity, provided the services.
Lourdes officials were not available to comment on the expansion into crisis response services.
The crisis response unit responds to residents experiencing behavioral health crises. It fields calls from family members, police, neighbors and others. Its staff assesses the situation and seeks to stabilize. When necessary, people in crisis may be institutionalized.
Years of questions about the unit’s future have left it understaffed. There have been high-profile situations where people did not receive proper services, with heartbreaking results.
In March, Marc Moreno, 18, of Pasco, died of drug-related causes in a Benton County jail cell after being brought in for warrants and disruptive behavior.
The decision to stop providing crisis response is part of the human services department’s larger plan to ready itself for 2020, when Washington state consolidates behavioral and physical health services under managed care organizations.
In June, the commissions scrapped plans to hire Rick Weaver of Yakima-based Comprehensive to develop a consolidation road map, fearing it would create a conflict of interest later if they wanted to hire the well-regarded Comprehensive to provide services.
Instead, the counties are bringing up the head of the consolidated behavioral health program in San Antonio, Texas, to lend his expertise.
The Franklin County Commission will hear a presentation on the topic by a citizen group led by former Benton County Commissioner Claude Oliver when it meets at 9 a.m. Aug. 24 at 1014 N. Fourth Ave.