By Rachel Pritchett
We’ve written about the problem before. Not enough appropriate facilities exist in communities including our own for people with mental illness exiting Western and Eastern state hospitals and other institutions.
Western has a backlog of residents ready to re-enter their community, but has not released them because there’s no place for them to live. It’s not a huge number.
Communities in the recent years have tried to meet the need as Western and Eastern state hospitals closed ward due to cost. In ours, Kitsap Mental Health Services started its “hospital without walls” program that offers intense support to mental patients in home settings. But it can only handle 47 people, just a drop in the bucket. Adult family homes take some.
So here’s an idea: Why not convert parts of assisted-living facilities to handle mental patients exiting places like Western? Kitsap County has 22 such facilities and about 1,000 beds, and not all are filled, by any means. Most are for-profit.
It’s something that’s been brought up over the years, though it is not under serious discussion, at present.
Locally in recent years, it’s been tried on a very limited basis, with a Poulsbo assisted-living facility taking a couple of formerly hospitalized mental-health patients.
“It could make sense,” admitted Rich Miller, CEO of the Washington Health Care Association, who some time back told me there could even be legislation proposing it in a few years.
Of course, the inevitable concern would be assisted-living residents who didn’t want to live next door to mental patients. Many current residents are private-pay, ambulatory seniors keen on continuing a quality lifestyle.
Safety of all residents and staff would be a concern, if psych patients became aggressive or suicidal.
“And that will clearly be an issue,” said Gayle Helseth-Kenison, retired local long-term are ombudsman.
“You’re talking about a whole different population with a wide spectrum of behaviors,” said Joe Roszak, executive director of Kitsap Mental Health Services.
Conceivably, those concerns could be addressed.
The assisted-living facilities would be retrofitted to have sections devoted solely to residents with mental conditions. Those sections would be separate from the rest of the facilities.
Assisted-living staff members would need to receive advanced
So there you have it. You’ll probably never read about this concept except here, at least not for a while.
But the idea of stretching the traditional uses of assisted-living facilities to meet a need is intriguing.