Respite center could lessen burden

A crisis respite center is planned for Warrenton.

WARRENTON — Advocates for the mentally ill said Tuesday night that a new crisis respite center could help people before their behavior spins out of control, potentially reducing the burden on hospitals and law enforcement.

The respite center in Warrenton would have 16 beds, half reserved for residential treatment and half that could offer temporary relief for people in crisis.

Up to four beds could be secure under the state’s second-highest class of supervision, so patients would be locked inside and could not walk away. But patients would not be secluded, restrained or compelled to take medication, the highest class of supervision.

The patients who would most likely be taken to the secure section would be under holds, civil commitment, a diversion program or guardianship.

Sumuer Watkins, the executive director of Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, which will operate the respite center, and Marc Chinard, a consultant, briefed the Warrenton City Commission at a work session.

The partnership behind the respite center — Clatsop County, Columbia Memorial Hospital, Providence Seaside Hospital and Greater Oregon Behavioral Health — backed the secure rooms last week after complaints from law enforcement and city leaders in Astoria and Warrenton that potentially violent patients would be allowed to leave.

Warrenton Mayor Mark Kujala and others on the City Commission strongly urged the respite center to follow through with the security improvements.

“I think it would have been very difficult. Absolutely,” Kujala, speaking after the briefing, said of whether he could support the respite center without the secure rooms. “I think that’s something that was essential.”

City Commissioner Henry Balensifer said he still has significant concerns. “I don’t see why it would be practical to support anything that didn’t have at least the option for security,” he said. “And I’m going to hold their feet to the fire that we still have those secure beds.”

Some worry that patients will walk away from the respite center and cause problems for police and disrupt businesses.

“What I’m saying is, why not put it out in the country? Where, No. 1, is they’re less likely to walk out. And, No. 2, is to keep it away from people that are trying to continue a business in a very difficult environment,” Jim Gannaway, a co-owner of GB Jewelers, told commissioners.

Commissioner Tom Dyer, an Oregon State Police officer, believes the respite center could help keep some people off the street. Others in law enforcement have said they hope the center can be an alternative to hospitals and jail.

“Eight beds doesn’t even touch our problem we have,” Dyer said of the mental health issues facing the county.

Watkins said the goal of the respite center is to provide a place where people can voluntarily seek help before they need to be taken to the emergency room or have encounters with police.

She told commissioners it is important to remember that many of the people in crisis are “your neighbors. They’re your family members. They’re the average person walking down the street who is happening to have this episode — crisis — for whatever reason.”

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