County’s Crisis Stabilization Center nears completion

— Created October 28, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Just some last minute, finishing touches and some furniture, and Island County’s Crisis Stabilization Center will be ready for its soft opening in early January, 2021.

Monday Washington Second District U.S. Representative Rick Larsen got a sneak peek at the facility from County Commissioner Jill Johnson and the County’s Facility Management Director, Larry Van Horn.

The $6.5 million, county-owned center will be operated by Pioneer Human Services, which also operates detox centers in Skagit and Whatcom Counties. The 10-bed facility will offer skilled medical care for people in mental health or substance abuse crises. Johnson said she anticipates there will be patients waiting to be admitted the day the center opens.

“I don’t know for certain, but day one we’ll probably have three,” she said. “Providers in town are waiting – they’ve got folks they’d like to admit.

“I always focus on mental health, because that’s what I think we’re going to need the rooms for, but you could also do chemical dependency here, so detox can happen,” Johnson continued. “It will be supervised, so they can get someone through that initial phase and start linking them up with services.”

Located off Oak Harbor Road and NE 10th Ave., the 10,500-square-foot, secure facility features two patient wings that jut out from either side of a central service desk, a great room, an enclosed outdoor area, several offices, laundry facilities and a kitchen area.

“I think it’s a great facility,” Van Horn told Rep. Larsen. “One of the permitting requirements was that the building had to be residential in look and I think the architect did a great job with that. Over the next month, we’ll be outfitting the building with all the furnishings, office and client needs for the bedrooms and all that.”

Ironically, the goal for a facility of this kind, said Johnson, is that one ultimately hopes it will be empty.

“We want people to use it. The goal, of course, is to have a building with no demand,” she said. “We have yet to see that happen, especially on the chemical dependency side. You hope at some point you have all these facilities and resources and nobody needs them. But until that day, we’ve got to give them facilities and resources.”

Larsen said the new stabilization center will definitely fulfill a need for the region.

“It’s a great community base project,” he acknowledged. “It’s really fulfilling a need here and in the region as well. It’s not just for Oak Harbor, not just for Island County, it is a regional project and just speaking from going around the entire five counties I represent, a facility of this kind is necessary.

“We haven’t seen all the impacts from the pandemic,” Larsen continued. “There are, of course, direct health impacts from getting COVID, but the increased isolation of individuals will have a long-term impact on people. We’ve seen overdoses increase during the pandemic as well, so I think it underscores even more how important this facility is to provide a place of respite for folks who have been struggling with mental health issues related, or not related, to the pandemic.”

Johnson admitted there has been some concern expressed because the facility will not just provide help to people in Island County. This is designed to be a regional center, but she said that doesn’t mean the people seeking help in Island County will be staying in Island County.

“I think the part that’s been confusing for folks is that…if you come here from Whatcom, we’re not going to link you to [services] here, we’re going to get you linked up with a provider in Whatcom County,” she explained. “They’re going to be picked up by someone from Whatcom County and taken back to Whatcom County. I think the idea that someone is stabilized here, there’s some confusion about whether they’re just released to the street, and that’s not what will happen.”

There is also a misconception about the people who may be seeking help at the center, according to Johnson.

“I think some of the stigma is that people think you have to be homeless on the street [to use this facility] and the majority of people who walk through the door aren’t going to be those people,” she said. “They’re going to be community members who say, ‘I need help.’ Well, we’re going to get you help. It’s easy.”

Van Horn said the County has been very thoughtful about how the Crisis Stabilization Center is presented to the community at large – even down to the facility’s name.

“We had a naming convention,” he told Larsen. “We chose the name ‘Ituha,'” he said. “It means ‘sturdy oak’ in Native American. I think it’s a great name and once people get accustomed to it, it will fit nicely.”

“The name is also a nod to the fact we have tribes in our region and this facility is for them as well,” said Johnson. “It’s a treatment facility, but it really is intended to be welcoming. You come in, you reset, and you get going again. There’s no judgement.”

Johnson said she hopes people will look at the new facility as a point of pride, because counties the size of Island County don’t usually get things like this.

“This is the achievement of a lifetime,” she told Larsen. “It just isn’t going to get better than this. I don’t know what you could contribute to your community that matters as much as this.”