Spokane’s first official jail-diversion facility has been operational for the last three months and is already proving to be a success for law enforcement and those suffering from drug withdrawals or mental health crises.
The 24-hour Spokane Regional Stabilization Center (SRSC) has helped over 100 people dealing with mental health crises or substance abuse disorders since its opening, and has proven to be a useful resource for law enforcement, according to Spokane Police Department Behavioral Health Unit Sergeant Jay Kernkamp.
Kernkamp said the facility provides a safe alternative to a traditional jail or hospital emergency center for individuals in the middle of a mental health crisis.
“A lot of times, the jails are full. The emergency rooms are full. It takes law enforcement a long time to sit in the waiting rooms, sometimes hours, and having a facility like this is a huge benefit to the community to where it saves officers time. It’s a warm, safe environment for individuals experiencing crisis,” Kernkamp told The Spokesman-Review.
Officials say the stabilization unit, run by hospital and health care company Pioneer Health Services (PHS), is particularly useful for people undergoing withdrawals or in need of shelter.
According to the company’s website, PHS works with community partners such as Spokane County and municipality officials to operate and manage the center, which they hope will be the first of several.
PHS also offers a range of services related to community housing and health programs.
PHS’ website states that the SRSC’s main goal is to reduce recidivism and the unnecessary involvement of law enforcement, criminal justice and emergency medical systems. The center focuses primarily on treating mental illnesses and substance abuse with behavioral health treatment, as well as housing, employment and other services.
PHS regional director Dan Sigler said that while the center is not quite at full capacity due to a staff shortage, it has already managed to help 129 people over the last three months.
Currently, the 30-member staff can serve 25 to 30 people at a time, cycling shifts to allow the center to stay open 24/7.
Staff members include clinicians, social workers and mental health treatment providers.
Kernkamp said that at full capacity, the center can fill 16 beds for stabilization, 16 for substance-related issues, and 16 for those suffering a combination of mental health and substance abuse disorders. In addition, treatment at the center will be covered by Medicare and Medicaid for two weeks.
The sergeant also added that the facility is 100% voluntary, and that police cannot force individuals to go to the center.
Sigler was optimistic about the results.
“You just learn along the way that sometimes it’s just one thing,” Sigler said. “And that one thing could completely change the trajectory for a person having spent years on the streets and then in and out of a hospital or maybe even jail.”
Kernkamp said that it’s too early to see whether such a facility will significantly cut down on mental health calls, especially given their increase since the pandemic.
“The reality is law enforcement has dealt with mental health and has been dealing with crisis for years and years,” Kernkamp explained. “We’re always trying to improve and to get better, but mandated therapy is a huge need. If you want these individuals to be living independently, they also need to be mandated to get help so that they cannot be in and out of the system and draw upon the services that others need.”
Kernkamp also emphasized that the center will not be open for people who have committed a crime. In such cases, the individual will be arrested first and treated for any mental health or substance abuse problem later. Instead, the center is strictly for people who may be causing a public disturbance due to a mental health crisis.
According to clinical psychologist and substance abuse researcher Michael McDonell of Washington State University, the research shows that jail-diversion institutions have been shown to help people overcome drug addiction.
“The stabilization center, for instance, is a great thing because it puts people in a place where they can access care right away, as opposed to a jail where it’s very hard for them to access the care they need,” McDonell said.