Unity Center for Behavioral Health plans to open by the end of the month.

COURTESY: OHSU/KRISTYNA WENTZ-GRAFF - Governor Kate Brown, Mayor Ted Wheeler and others cut the ribbon at the grand opening ceremony for the Unity Center for Behavioral Health in Portland on Jan. 5.It will soon get much easier for those in the tri-county area experiencing a mental health crisis to receive help.

The first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, the Unity Center for Behavioral Health, 1225 N.E. 2nd Ave., will offer immediate services to those experiencing a psychotic episode, be it mild or severe.

Though the public was granted tours after a ribbon cutting on Jan. 5, the facility isn't scheduled to open for service until sometime later this month.

According to Brian Terrett, director of public and community relations at Legacy Health, a specific opening date will be announced once final inspections and licenses have been granted. Legacy Health, along with Adventist Health, Kaiser Permanente and Oregon Health and Science University, collaborated to open the $40 million facility. It will have beds for 80 adults and 22 adolescents age 9 to 18.

Unity aims to take Portland Police out of the equation when it comes to 911 calls about mental health. They are working with emergency medical services to respond to such calls instead.

"Right now if you all 911 and say my roommate is having a severe psychiatric breakdown, law enforcement would arrive, and if they felt like the roommate needed to have care, they would take them in the police car and to the hospital emergency department," says Terrett. "We believe psychiatric emergencies are medical, not criminal … it takes (Portland Police) out of the business of being field social workers."

In the near future, instead of a cop car, an ambulance and EMS services will come and assess a patient. If there are no other complicating medical issues, they'll be taken to Unity. People will be able to walk up, too.

"Because services for mental illness are highly decentralized, sometimes people wait a long time to get the care they need. We know the longer it takes … the harder it is for them to recover," says Terrett.

The center will combine psychiatric emergency care and short-term inpatient services.

The Psychiatric Emergency Service (PES) will be an outpatient service where patients can be under observation for a few hours up to 23 hours. Patients, voluntary or involuntary, will receive help from psychiatry and addictions specialists, nurses, social workers and mental health therapists.

The goal is to provide evaluation, stabilization and a plan for after discharge. Outreach workers will help patients connect with treatment and resources like housing and job assistance, legal aid, addiction treatment and family counseling.

Unity Center for Behavioral Health is modeled after a facility in Alameda, California.

Terrett says they are hoping to achieve the same results that have been achieved there and in other states.

Studies of the Alameda Model indicate that transferring patients from general hospital emergency departments to a regional psychiatric emergency service reduced wait time for those seeking psychiatric care by more than 80 percent, and that PES can provide treatment to stabilize 75 percent of those experiencing a mental health crisis — therefore alleviating the demand for inpatient psychiatric beds.

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