A planned behavioral health facility in Clark County’s Mount Vista neighborhood received critical approval this month from a county hearing officer.
Tyler Hemstreet, media relations manager for the state Department of Human and Health Services, said the examiner approved a conditional use permit for the facility on Aug. 10.
The DSHS facility will be built on 11.84 acres at 16015 NE 50th Ave. It will consist of three single-story buildings, each with 16 beds. It will house patients on civil commitment for 90 to 180 days, although commitments can be extended by the court.
The Department of Human and Health Services will operate one facility, and the Washington State Health Authority will contract with teams to run the other two. All three will provide initial intake and assessment, medical screening, psychiatric screening, risk screening, psychological/biological/social assessment, treatment and peer support to 48 patients.
The approval will come as unwelcome news to residents who oppose the project. During a two-part public hearing held May 26 and June 16, nearly a dozen residents testified against the project, citing concerns about traffic, nearby wetlands, its proximity to schools, stormwater runoff and how the site was chosen .
Among the witnesses was Clark County Prosecutor Steve Morash. Morasch came to the hearing to represent several of the residents, including some who helped found the group No Mental Facility. Safety is one of the biggest concerns for residents, he said.
“You may have a situation where it may not be a lockdown facility … but they may accommodate some people, perhaps in a wing or some rooms, that may need to undergo a partial or total lockdown,” which would require the 300-foot setback from schools designated by the land use code, Morash said during the hearing.
The attorney argued that the planned facility is essentially a diversion facility for mentally challenged criminals. Clark County Council District 5 candidate Don Benton has stepped up. During an interview in June, Benton called the facility a “prison for the criminally insane” and said it should be rejected.
Hemstreet said Benton’s description was not correct. He said Clark County’s code for residential care facilities, including DSHS’s proposed facility, excludes jails or conventional correctional facilities involving 24-hour locked confinement with little or no freedom of movement.
“The proposed residential treatment facilities in Clark County are considered assessment and treatment facilities that offer inpatient care to individuals suffering from a mental disorder,” Hemstreet said.
The examiner’s decision includes conditions for landscaping, wetland mitigation, transportation, a Department of Ecology stormwater permit, and security, among others. The full text of the decision can be found at https://bit.ly/3pAdIMe.
Now that the conditional use permit has been approved, Hemstreet said the next steps will be to apply for a building permit, get an updated cost estimate from the general contractor/construction manager, refine project cost estimates and update the schedule of construction with the design team to create an accurate timeline. Construction was expected to begin later this year, with the first building open to patients in the fall or winter of 2023, but that could change.
Hemstreet said no additional public meetings are planned.
“I don’t expect any at this stage. We’ll probably send out an update to our contact list of people who are interested in the project and what’s going on,” he said.
Hemstreet said some of the individuals on the contact list have been adamantly opposed to the project, even filing complaints against the State Environmental Policy Act (which were dismissed by the examiner), so he expects some pushback.
“We’re also in the process of building the framework for some kind of board made up of community members who have an interest in the facility and how we treat people with mental health issues.” It may also serve as a place for us to invite interested parties into the facility for tours and possibly discussions with DSHS management. We’ll be working on it while construction is going on so it’s ready to go when the buildings are finished,” Hemstreet said.
For more information about the facility and project updates, visit https://bit.ly/3PN6Cyt.