People want more mental health and substance abuse help. Here’s when that will happen.

Clinical Nurse Manager Anthony Ulrich stands inside Whatcom County’s Crisis Triage Center in Bellingham on Oct. 20, 2016.
Clinical Nurse Manager Anthony Ulrich stands inside Whatcom County’s Crisis Triage Center in Bellingham on Oct. 20, 2016. The Bellingham Herald file

A new 32-bed center to treat people struggling with mental illness and substance abuse likely will open in 2019 – a decade after it was identified as a need in the community.

“Finally, we’ve reached the goal,” said Anne Deacon, the Human Services Manager for the Whatcom County Health Department.

The project to expand Whatcom County’s Crisis Triage Center will cost up to an estimated $9.5 million. It will be on Division Street in Bellingham on property owned by county government.

People can learn about it at a 5:30 p.m. meeting on Tuesday at the Whatcom Transportation Authority’s offices, 4011 Bakerview Spur.

The existing center helps stabilize five people who are suffering a mental health crisis, and eight people withdrawing from drugs and/or alcohol. Both services share a building, although different organizations run them.

It is smaller and often full, so the expansion is needed to provide services to more people who would otherwise end up in jail, the hospital emergency room or back on the streets, officials said.

The need for a larger center was identified back in 2009, and is a priority of the Whatcom County Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force as well.

“It will also improve our ability to divert individuals from jail and into this treatment facility when it is the more appropriate response,” Deacon said.

Having more space will allow for a greater range of treatment, including acute detox services for clients who may have complications because of withdrawal.

Construction costs will be paid with $7 million from the Washington state capital budget and $2.5 million from the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization.

It could start by the end of the 2018, and the expanded center could open by late spring or early summer of 2019.

There have been stops and starts over the years because of funding issues, according to Deacon.

“This is not an inexpensive service. It’s certainly a more humane way to treat people,” she added. “It’s effective and it’s the right thing to do.”

People getting treatment would be at the center on a voluntary basis.

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

More on the project is online at whatcomcounty.us/2075/Crisis-Triage-Center.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea