New stabilization center aims for January opening

Island County’s new facility will help people with mental health and substance use issues.

Officials from across Island County got their first look Friday afternoon at a facility that will soon help people overcome substance abuse and mental health problems.

Jackie Henderson, the county’s Human Services director, told the group — including several mayors, a county commissioner and law-and-justice leaders — that construction of the $6-million stabilization center in Oak Harbor is complete and should be open early next year. Local officials peppered staff with questions about the 10-bed facility as they took a first look at the tall ceilings, bright rooms and numerous safety and security features inside.

The new facility will serve mostly Island County residents, but also people from San Juan County and other areas.

Pioneer Human Services, a Seattle-based nonprofit that helps people overcome substance use and mental health issues, will operate the facility. The county owns the property located on 10th Avenue Northeast. Henderson said she thinks they will be able to open the doors in early January, since the building still needs to be furnished and the company needs to find staff.

There are many reasons a person would be referred to the stabilization center. Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis or seeking help for chemical dependency treatment could find help there, regardless if they are homeless or not, according to Henderson.

“It’s certainly not a program just for people who are homeless,” she said. “It’s a program for people who own their own homes, or for their brothers or sisters, sons or daughters, or other people living with them, who just need some help.”

For example, Henderson said she had a friend whose son was seeking help for opioid use who could have benefited from a similar facility. Although he had a bed in a long-term facility lined up, he needed a place to wait for it to become available.

“This facility would be perfect for something like that,” Henderson said.

The stabilization center can also be a place for people experiencing a mental health crisis who need professional help to identify the problem, she said.

“Maybe their meds need to be changed, maybe they’re on the wrong meds, maybe there’s other things going on that they need the help to get straightened out,” Henderson suggested. “And then they can be on their way again.”

It takes a person two to five days to stabilize on average, Henderson said. People could stay longer if they wished and have the agreement of their provider and insurance company, although it is not meant to be a long-term solution.

It cost slightly more than $6 million to fund the project, according to Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson, who was involved in the project from the beginning. The state contributed $5 million to the project, and a regional behavioral health organization gave another $1 million, she said.

Johnson and Henderson agreed that state Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, was instrumental in obtaining the funding for the project.

“We’re really lucky we got our facility in place when we did because I don’t know when there will be that much capital to put towards this kind of investment for a while,” Johnson said.

The building currently has 10 beds but was designed to increase to 16 beds, if needed. It won’t go above 16 beds because of Medicaid funding regulations, Henderson explained.

Island County residents were over-represented in their use of similar facilities in other counties, Johnson said. She said she understood that some people may be nervous about the new facility but that the county needed one of its own after using similar facilities nearby.

“We’ve been pulling on those systems to stabilize our folks and we can’t keep doing that,” Johnson said, explaining the center is a tool to help people in crisis.

“What people really want to see is, they don’t want to see people deteriorating on the street,” she said. “They want to see them get the help they need, and I think this facility will get them the help they need.”

Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-TimesConstruction for the county’s $6 million stabilization center in Oak Harbor is complete and will likely open in early January of next year.

Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times Construction for the county’s $6 million stabilization center in Oak Harbor is complete and will likely open in early January of next year.