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Dozens show support for Providence’s mental health hospital

Medrice Coluccio, regional chief executive of Providence Health & Services, Southwest Washington, outlines the proposed mental health hospital, Olympia Behavioral Health, during a state Department of Health public hearing.
Medrice Coluccio, regional chief executive of Providence Health & Services, Southwest Washington, outlines the proposed mental health hospital, Olympia Behavioral Health, during a state Department of Health public hearing. sbloom@theolympian.com

About 30 people, many with ties to Providence St. Peter Hospital, spoke Wednesday, largely in support of a new mental health hospital proposed by Providence and Fairfax Behavioral Health.

The 85-bed Olympia Behavioral Health, pitched for 3000 Marvin Road NE in Lacey at a cost of about $34 million, is under review by the state Department of Health. Wednesday’s public hearing was part of the certificate of need process the state requires.

A separate company, US HealthVest of New York, already has received a certificate of need for its proposed mental health hospital — South Sound Behavioral — which also is set to be built in Lacey. Providence and Fairfax have appealed the state’s approval. The appeal is to be heard before a health law judge Dec. 7.

On Wednesday morning, Medrice Coluccio, chief executive for Providence Health & Services, Southwest Washington, provided an overview of the proposal that would serve children, adolescents, adults and seniors, voluntarily and involuntarily. Then 27 people spoke for two hours about Olympia Behavioral Health and the need for such services in Thurston County and the region.

However, there were some critical voices, including from two representatives of US HealthVest.

Randy Kaniecki of US HealthVest said the company identified the South Sound as significantly underserved for behavioral health.

“We are moving forward to implement our project in early 2018,” he said. “There’s no need for a second hospital at this time.”

He added that the Providence/Fairfax application was “more about thwarting our project than making a commitment to the community.”

Several people shared some sobering stories about mental health needs:

▪ Mark Naubert, who serves on the Providence St. Peter Foundation board, recalled a family member in crisis: “This community sucks for resources,” he said. “There just aren’t enough resources or psychologists or psychiatrists. Everybody is so busy, filled up and you can’t get an appointment or resources. And if you don’t have the financial wherewithal, you’re stuck.”

▪ Gerald Pumphrey serves on St. Peter’s community ministry board: “Eight years ago while still president of South Puget Sound Community College, I had to tell our director of security that the right thing to do was to have one of our students and part-time employees arrested and incarcerated because he had fallen back into substance abuse and was a danger to himself and the campus.

“The right decision was to have him hospitalized, but there was no opportunity in our community to do that. I made the best decision available to me, but it wasn’t one I was comfortable with at the time or today.”

▪ Jackie Brown runs the emergency department at St. Peter’s that manages behavioral health patients: “We get 18 to 20 patients a day who stay as little as three hours to more than 30 days. We have a patient who has just been detained for 90 days. We are not prepared to hold them for that length of time. We are not skilled at that. We need services that can manage patients for that longer period of time.”

▪ Annette Stier, director of women’s and children’s services for the southwest region at Providence Health & Services: “Five years ago we rarely had a pediatric patient with any psychological issues: no suicides, no overdoses, nothing. Now, it’s a rarity that I don’t have a child in my unit that has attempted suicide or overdosed or has psychological issues.

“My pediatric nurses are pediatric nurses: They take care of broken bones or asthma. These children frequently don’t have insurance, and they don’t have the resources, and we will see them again and again because we do not have (the hospital) in our community.”

Fairfax Chief Executive Ron Escarda took issue with the HealthVest comments, saying it was ironic that they were questioning the commitment shown by Providence and Fairfax. Escarda pointed out that the two organizations have been around for more than 200 years.

“We are the largest behavioral health service in the state, and we are the largest involuntary treatment service in the state,” said Escarda, who was about to compare the HealthVest business model to a cable TV show when he was warned about his comments.

He changed his tone.

“We are the right partnership for the community,” he said.

The state Department of Health is expected to make a decision on the Olympia Behavioral Health certificate of need application in January.

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