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Detox, mental health center best on Division Street, task force says

Clinical Nurse Manager Anthony Ulrich stands inside the Whatcom County Triage Center in Bellingham, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. Run by Compass Health, the triage center helps up to five people in behavioral health crisis at a time.
Clinical Nurse Manager Anthony Ulrich stands inside the Whatcom County Triage Center in Bellingham, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. Run by Compass Health, the triage center helps up to five people in behavioral health crisis at a time. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Division Street is the best location for a new 32-bed center to treat those who are struggling with mental illness and substance abuse.

That is what the County Council heard Tuesday, Oct. 25, during the second report from the Whatcom County Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force.

The projected cost for a new center, with two sides joined by a common entrance, would be roughly $6.5 million.

Division Street already is home to the Whatcom County Triage Center, which helps up to five people in behavioral health crisis, and Whatcom Community Detox, which helps up to eight people withdrawing from drugs and/or alcohol. Both services share a building, although different organizations run them.

The proposal is to redevelop the Division Street property, which the county owns.

The task force’s recommendation was the latest step in the county’s efforts to build a larger crisis triage facility to keep people with substance abuse and mental health issues out of jail, and came as officials grapple with the closure in 2018 of Pioneer Center North, a 141-bed inpatient treatment facility in Skagit County.

About 22 percent of Pioneer Center North’s patients come from Whatcom County.

“The need for crisis triage is immediate and urgent,” Jack Hovenier, co-chair of the task force, told the council as he also referred to the opioid crisis in Whatcom County.

Whatcom County ranks third out of 39 counties for overall negative impacts from heroin abuse and sixth for overall negative impacts from prescription opiates, according to a 2016-2019 Community Health Needs Assessment for PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center.

The proposed size of the new center also is affected by Medicaid funding, which limits each side to a maximum of 16 beds.

The county has set aside about $3 million of a special sales tax that raises money for mental health care for the project, and North Sound Behavioral Health Organization has promised $2.5 million. Another $1 million is needed, and the county Health Department is asking the state for money.

State Medicaid dollars are expected to help pay for its operations.

The task force will drill down into specifics of the new center once the County Council decides that is what it wants to do.

For now, the council has agreed to move ahead with talking to Division Street neighbors about having the new center there.

If Division Street isn’t picked, the task force mentioned alternate sites near PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center or downtown Bellingham. Exactly where those would be hasn’t been determined.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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