Future Crisis Center to Become Mental Health Alternative to Incarceration, Hospitalization

September 2 marked the first public overview of the future location for the Benton County Crisis Center — the soon-to-be-former Office of County Counsel on 205 NW 5th St. in downtown Corvallis. County staff were proud to announce that the building will be repurposed into a trauma-informed, treatment-centered facility that will provide immediate stabilization and support to individuals experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis.  

According to information provided at the event, client care may last from a few hours to a maximum of 30 days, and would include 24/7 access to stabilization and support services, such as short-term therapy and skills training. Direct pathways and connections to other community resources will also be provided, including treatment services and social service supports, medication support services, and primary care providers. 

Representative Dan Rayfield was able to allocate $1.25 million in relief dollars for the project under the American Rescue Plan. Congressman Peter DeFazio, who worked to pass the ARP through Congress, also secured an additional $1 million for the project through the House-passed funding bill. Both DeFazio and Rayfield were present at the event, and were given a tour of the building. 

Crisis Care Severely Lacking 

According to Danielle Brown, Deputy Director of Benton County Behavioral Health, countywide respite services that are currently available for those experiencing mental health crises are severely limited, and insufficient to even begin to address the urgent mental health needs of the community.  

“We have one current respite bed in one of our residential treatment facilities here in Corvallis,” said Brown, referring to the Janus House. “That bed is integrated with the whole facility; there’s people there longer-term who are receiving care and treatment, so we’re really conscientious of who we’re putting in that one bed to make sure that we’re not disrupting the other patients that are in that house.”  

Brown said that the Crisis Center, which will have five 24-hour beds, would allow more flexibility for receiving individuals in need of immediate stabilization and care. 

“Our intention with this project is really to create a strong continuum of care for people experiencing a behavioral health crisis,” said Brown. 

Alternative to Incarceration and Hospitalization 

One of the purposes of the Crisis Center is to reduce law enforcement interactions with, and judicial entanglements for, people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. This would help prevent an individual in need of treatment from facing incarceration, which fails to address underlying social and mental health needs and, coupled with damaging long-term consequences that criminal records produce, is highly likely to reinforce trauma.  

DeFazio recalled specific issues he witnessed during his time as County Commissioner of Lane County when crisis intervention relied on the use of law enforcement. 

“The alternative in those days was [people] got thrown into a squad car and they were taken… all the way up to Salem,” said DeFazio. “So obviously for the police and for the sheriff, it was a huge time commitment, and then people were displaced from the community in a strange environment, [and] families couldn’t visit.” 

Another purpose of the Crisis Center is to divert individuals from hospitalizations that entail highly intensive and restrictive levels of care, such as the acute psychiatric inpatient unit at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center. Given the lack of alternatives for crisis care, the GSRMC is often flooded with individuals voluntarily seeking immediate mental health treatment, as well as involuntarily held patients who have similar needs.  

“We had a work group in 2019, and we pulled from the Good Samaritan admission records and ER records the patients that were admitted into the acute inpatient psychiatric unit, and looked if they were admitted based on a directors hold — meaning they had been deemed to be dangerous to themselves or someone else — versus being voluntary and having the person just recognize that they needed additional help,” said Brown. 

Data collected by the work group had shown that approximately 60% of the admissions were voluntary in nature. 

“When we were looking at those numbers, it was pretty obvious that we needed something for people that are voluntary to get care,” said Brown. “So that’s why we started thinking about this kind of program in the community. 

According to Brown, this would also allow the psychiatric inpatient unit to be more open for people who require the level of care that it provides. In addition, with inpatient costs anticipated to be less than $450 per day at the Crisis Center, versus over $1,000 per day at the psychiatric inpatient unit, there is financial room for twice as many adults to be served in an environment that is least-restrictive and more therapeutic.  

Opportunities for Unhoused Folks 

DeFazio stated that he had recently visited the site for Third Street Commons, a project being led by Corvallis Housing First that aims to redevelop the Budget Inn on Highway 99W into roughly 50 units, which will be used to provide permanent, supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness in Corvallis. DeFazio and Rep. Rayfield had helped the organization secure state and federal funds for the project. 

“From talking to people there, I can see how [unshoused] people who might end up here [the Crisis Center] then go there [Third Street Commons], so this is going to benefit the whole community,” said DeFazio. “There’s a lot of money that’s been coming to the state from the feds… and if we’re successful with reconciliation, there will be more [resources] to deal with these issues of affordable housing and access to helping those who aren’t housed.” 

“Anybody who lives in this community, when you’re riding your bikes… you see, a.) how housing is such a great crisis in our community and across the state, and b.) how behavioral health is such a big issue in our community,” said Rayfield. 

While Brown is certain that the Crisis Center will serve the unhoused community, it is not a demographic that is being primarily targeted. 

“What we’re really targeting is anybody having a behavioral health crisis,” said Brown. “But undoubtedly, a large portion of those individuals will be people experiencing homelessness. The data shows that individuals who are homeless have huge amounts of substance use and mental health conditions that need to be treated, so I think that there’s going to be a huge opportunity to connect those individuals to services in a more organic way than we do now with it being a little clunky to get into services because of the system that’s in place.” 

Currently, mental health and substance use services are provided at the Benton Health Center, located on NW 27th St. However, patients need to come in and ask to use these services, which are only available from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. 

“This [center] will allow for just another door and entry into services that, partially because of the location, will be more accessible for people,” said Brown. “We likely will have patients accessing the Crisis Center that normally wouldn’t have necessarily walked into the Health Services building for services.” 

Building Plans and Next Steps 

The building remodel will happen once County services that currently reside in the building finish moving to the office building on 4500 Research Way, where the new County Counsel facility will be located. County commissioners are expected to finish relocating in October, followed by the IT department. 

“They’ll move over maybe in winter, and so we’re hoping that this building will be complete and ready to see clients in early 2023,” said Commissioner Xan Augerot. 

Phase 1 of the remodel will create a 4,000-square-foot space on the first floor. This will entail tearing down some of the maze-like walls towards the back of the floor, where a community space, kitchen and dining area will be built.   

“It is a surprisingly large space; once we’re able to remove these non-load-bearing walls, it will feel a lot bigger and very open,” said Alyssa Rash, the Benton County Public Information Officer. “We’re very fortunate in this location to have so many windows; they will all be retrofitted so that they are completely safe for any patients that need psychiatric care, but they’re still going to have a lot of natural light.” 

The second floor is where offices will be located for administrative staff, including those who will be providing residential care, as well as referrals to ongoing mental health services for discharged patients. 

All in all, attendees and speakers have expressed great excitement for the project as a vision for expanding the kinds of crisis-related support and services that are needed in the community. 

“I think it’s a really tremendous opportunity to build a large system that we need for this town,” said Brown.  

By Emilie Ratcliff