In the next few years, The Dalles will have a new and important tool for mental health in the form of a Crisis Resolution Center, which will provide services for those experiencing mental health crises in the Gorge.
Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill is one of the spearheads of the project, serving as one of the co-coordinators of the Columbia Gorge Crisis Resolution Center Advisory Council. Magill has had a longstanding interest in improving mental health resources in the Gorge, having worked on it from the time he became chief deputy 13 years ago.
The resolution center project specifically began in October 2019, Magill said. Unfortunately, in March 2020, just five months after the project started, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which stalled the project for about six or seven months.
“That was kind of a bummer,” Magill said. “But we’ve been back on track for quite a while now.”
The center will be regional, benefiting Hood River, Wasco and Sherman counties. Unfortunately, due to different state laws for individuals in crisis, residents from Washington will not be able to utilize its services.
The resolution center is a multifaceted project, with the top three areas of focus being acute — severe and rapid onset — mental and behavioral health crises, sub-acute mental and behavioral health crises, which require less intensive care, and drug and alcohol addiction.
The plan for the resolution center includes two facilities: One residential treatment facility (RTF) and one secure residential treatment facility (SRTF).
At the RTF, there will be 16 beds and people can be assigned to them and receive treatment. The Dalles already has an RTF in the form of Mid-Columbia Center for Living, but this one will be an expanded version, Magill said. Alternatively, the SRTF will be a secure place where officers can take people on police officer hold. It will also be for those experiencing sub-acute crises who need stabilization.
Though they are working on the planning, the facility won’t be run by Wasco County. Instead, an organization called Columbia Care will be building and managing the center itself. At the moment, Wasco County has received $4.5 million from legislation for the project, Magill said, and Columbia Care has applied for a grant of $11.5 million, which would be enough to complete the project, as it is estimated to be a $15 million project.
If Columbia Care receives the money, it’s possible the RTF could break ground as early as May, and the SRTF could break ground by late summer or early fall of 2023, Magill said.
The center will also have a walk-in crisis center, where anyone experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis will be able to walk in and receive treatment of their own accord, with no barriers.
There’s also a fourth aspect that holds a lot of importance that won’t necessarily be able to be addressed on site, Magill said, which is treatment for those experiencing acute crises.
“That takes a different level of care, like actual physicians on staff and a different type of facility,” he said. “That’s what Mid-Columbia Medical Center will build when they build their new hospital. It’s a 16-bed behavioral health unit. It’s an acute care mental health facility that will really put people in a very secure environment.”
Because the two buildings of the resolution center won’t be able to provide those services, until MCMC’s new facility is built, those experiencing acute crises will likely have to be taken to Unity in Portland, Magill said.
Ultimately, the resolution center is just one piece in a much larger puzzle of providing care for those who need it, Magill said.
“Think about the resolution center as being that hub and spoke model,” he said. “For a myriad of different reasons we either bring people or they come to our facility and we create a stable environment for them. We get them stabilized and then out of that hub, we will be able to push them through the spokes of wherever they need to go for continuing services.”
There are around 20 “spokes” that people would be able to utilize, Magill said, including the future Navigation Center or Mid-Columbia Center for Living, as well as places in Hood River or Sherman counties.
The plan is for the resolution center to work closely with Mid-Columbia Community Action Council and their upcoming Navigation Center to help unhoused people who may be suffering from addiction or a mental health crisis. However, Magill said, it’s important to remember that though there are situations where courts can get involved and order someone to treatment, most of the time that’s not the case, and it’s up to an individual to choose to seek help.
“Being homeless and having a mental illness are not crimes,” he said. “They’re health conditions.”
The resolution center also will not only be for those who are homeless, Magill said. Ultimately, it’s for everyone who needs it.
“Mental and behavioral issues have no boundaries when it comes to socioeconomics or class,” he said. “In fact, we did a study. We received data in 2019 and between Hood River County and Wasco County, the combined total of people that had been diagnosed with a mental illness was just a hair under 5,000 — what people don’t understand is when you break that down between Hood River and Wasco County, that is basically 10% of our population, and that’s just those who have been diagnosed.”
Something that Magill said is really important to remember is that mental and behavioral health issues affect everyone in the community, and everyone should work together to help those who need it.
“My mindset is if everybody takes a little piece of the apple, the apple will be gone before you know it,” he said. “If everybody gives a little bit, well, that’s what we call community.”
Klickitat County is now running its own crisis program for county residents — Related story page 5.