Providence Health and Services is leading an effort to create a social service hub in downtown Olympia with a focus on people with serious mental illness.
The proposed Community Care Center will open sometime in 2016. Organizers say the center will fill a void by uniting several service agencies under one roof — and reducing the number of mentally ill people who end up in jails and emergency rooms.
Mental illness often intersects with substance abuse and chronic homelessness. To that end, the center will help catalyze a range of local service providers and maximize access for people who need it most.
“We’re just coordinating services we already have,” said TJ LaRocque, inpatient behavioral health manager for Providence.
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No location has been determined. However, the plan is to lease a space around 12,000 square feet in downtown Olympia.
“It’s imperative to be downtown,” LaRocque told the Thurston County Board of Commissioners in a presentation Thursday. “That’s where the people we’re trying to serve — the most vulnerable folks — already are.”
Nearly 40 percent of clients at the Providence St. Peter Hospital emergency center crisis services department are trying to access the same services that would be provided by the Community Care Center. That adds up to about 1,800 people a year, according to Providence.
The center’s purpose aligns with other efforts to improve community health and reform the criminal justice system in Thurston County, County Commissioner Cathy Wolfe said.
For example, the county is slated to open a mental health triage center in April that can help free up more jail beds. Mentally ill inmates are typically housed in two-person cells and require more space, according to the county.
Wolfe also noted the “frequent fliers” who need treatment, but instead shuffle in and out of jail at the public’s expense.
“This will go a long way toward finding the right place for people as opposed to jail,” Wolfe said of the proposed center. “If this works the way it’s envisioned, it could be a huge boon financially and socially.”
Several agencies are already on board. Behavioral Health Resources intends to provide at least one on-site mental health professional. Interfaith Works will coordinate shelter while the Sidewalk Program will provide assistance with housing and case management.
Other participating agencies so far include the Capital Recovery Center, the Thurston/Mason chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, the Olympia Free Clinic/Mental Health Access Program and the Veterans Administration of Southwest Washington.