New county facility is piece of the puzzle for mental health patients

Police pushed hard for a place to take people for treatment

Multnomah County will get more mental health treatment options Tuesday when the long-awaited 16-bed Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center begins operation at 55 N.E. Grand Ave.

Portland police were among those who have pushed hardest for what is sometimes called a sub-acute facility because it gives officers an alternative to jail or a hospital for people in custody who are suffering psychiatric crises.

'It's the one puzzle piece that's missing,' says David Austin, Multnomah County spokesman.

The center cost $4.5 million to build and will use up about $3.5 million in annual operating expenses. Funding is shared between Portland, Multnomah County, nonprofit Central City Concern and the state of Oregon.

Most of the new facility's patients will stay between four and 14 days, according to Austin. The center will give them a place to become stabilized, with the idea that they will leave with a plan for follow-up treatment from other providers.

'We're not just going to say, 'It's time for you to go.' We're going to be making connections,' Austin says.

Assuming there is an open bed, police officers will be able to take to the center people they suspect are having mental health crises. In addition, members of the public can access the center.

The center is expected to serve about 850 people a year. Austin says that people have questioned why a larger facility was not built, but that the 16-bed center is as large as it can be without being considered a hospital, which would require a more extensive state approval process.

'What we're trying to do is avoid that expensive jail time and that expensive hospital stay,' Austin says.

Police often have no place to take people suffering psychiatric crises other than hospital emergency departments, where officers must wait, often for hours, before a person is admitted. Sometimes there are no psychiatric rooms available at hospitals, and Portland patients sometimes are taken as far as Southern Oregon in search of open psychiatric beds.

People who may need admission to the center can call Multnomah County's mental health call center, 503-988-4888.