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Sonoma County's new mental health facility opens

Sonoma County has finally mothballed a nearly half-century-old troubled mental health facility that for years evoked a darker era of psychiatric care, a time when patients in crisis were locked away in drab institutions and forgotten.

Once considered a model of modern behavioral health care, the severely pared-down Oakcrest psychiatric facility over the years devolved into a Band-Aid effort at caring for the county’s most emotionally and mentally troubled residents.

Plagued by patient escapes, aging facilities, inadequate services for adults, no services at all for adolescents and, at times, even bed bugs, the facility had become a stain on the county’s mental health department.

On Monday, the county will move into a brand-new urgent care center for mental health patients, one that will provide much-needed services for children and serve as an access point for low-income residents seeking outpatient or emergency treatment.

“It greatly expands what we’re already doing,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a strong advocate of mental health services. “It provides access that is voluntary, where people can walk in and get an assessment and be hospitalized if necessary.”

Last week, the county’s director of mental health services, Michael Kennedy, and other officials invited mental health care advocates and providers to tour the new southwest Santa Rosa facility.

Kennedy beamed with excitement over what the county can now offer, including crisis assessment, peer support, stabilization, counseling and medication for up to 23 hours.

The new $1.6 million center also provides referrals to acute inpatient psychiatric hospitals or to residential crisis treatment - up to 30 days for voluntary referrals, as needed. The center has significantly more capacity than the old Oakcrest facility, which more recently was known as Psychiatric Emergency Services, or PES.

Kennedy said the new facility will expand the current number of “slots” for patients by 33 percent, to 16, by 2017. By 2018, capacity at the center will reach a full 30 slots, or 150 percent of the current capacity at PES.

Located on Challenger Way and Corporate Center Parkway, the 14,066-square-foot facility is 65 percent larger than the Oakcrest site on Chanate Road. Once at full capacity, some 60 employees will be working out of the urgent care center, including a number of peer workers.

Kate Roberge, a mental health peer who works for the consumer-relations program of Goodwill Industries, called the addition of peer services a significant move on the part of the county. Roberge was one of several mental health peers who worked with the county in planning for the new urgent care center.

“That’s really one of the big, great things going on is the hiring of peer support specialists,” Roberge said. “The peers are going to be there to welcome people, to sit with people, support people during their stay and help with resources when people are ready leave.”

Roberge, who toured the new facility prior to last week’s open house, described it as “a place where someone would feel calmer and more at ease in the midst of a crisis.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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