Four Portland hospitals team up to improve access to mental health services

Unity Center for Behavioral Health, located in northeast Portland (KPTV)

An ambitious partnership between four Portland hospitals is seeking to bridge the gap between people in a mental health crisis and the services they need.

The Unity Center for Behavioral Health, which is scheduled to open its doors in January 2017, will be a 24-hour psychiatric hospital, with 80 beds for adults, and 22 beds for children and teenagers.

"You actually observe people, treat people, and actually, 75 percent, 80 percent can be sent home. So it avoids unnecessary hospitalizations," said Dr. Chris Farentino, the Unity Center's Vice President.

Farentino said the center will also provide services for patients who need extended care and treatment.

Often, first responders make first contact with people in a mental health crisis.

"I would safely say 15-20 percent of our calls, especially to central precinct, probably have some kind of mental health component to it," said Portland Police Chief Mike Marshman.

Marshman said officers currently take patients to the nearest emergency room, either in a squad car or by ambulance, if the patient is considered a threat to themselves or others.

Farentino said emergency rooms often don't have the specialty staff or resources to handle patients who need psychiatric care.

Stephanie McMurphy, whose son is schizophrenic, said emergency rooms, and even treatment centers have been unable to help him.

"It's a continuous circle. Doesn't seem to have any end," said McMurphy.

McMurphy said she applauds the efforts behind the Unity Center, but she doesn't believe it's a final solution.

"There's so many little gaps right now, I think in the entire system," said McMurphy.

Marshman, for his part, agrees, saying mental health is a complicated issue to address.

"It's the first step," said Marshman. "I hope that people don't think 'OK, the Unity Center is up and running and we're done.' They're not."

Marshman said officers will begin transporting people they believe to be in a mental health crisis to the Unity Center by ambulance once the center is open for service.

Copyright 2016 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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