New mental health clinic in Clackamas forges new partnerships

From the Clackamas Review, May 30, 2012 – not online

Centerstone opens in Clackamas mall area to access population

Clackamas County opened a new clinic this spring to target mental health in ways that are at least unique to the county, if not also the state as a whole.

The clinic provides walking distance access for a large low income population near the Clackamas Town Center. Many other parts of the county can access the Centerstone Urgent Mental Health Walk-In Center by TriMet bus and light rail. Leaders credit county health director Cindy Becker coming on board with a behavioral health redesign in deciding to move mental health more out in the community. A subcommittee recommended a model like Centerstone, where patients can choose one or both peer support and medicinal therapy.

“We have professional support and peers together and that’s what makes it so special and effective,” said Centerstone Manager Martha Spiers.

“They’ll talk to people who have had bad experiences with traditional mental health services
and provide a different route. They can come here and get peer support without the pressure to see a psychiatrist or take medications.”

Peer Services Coordinator Jim Whipple is running a “standard mental health support group” called Common Ground for people with psychological issues. An Empowerment Initiative peer-support group meets on Saturdays from 1 to 2 p.m.

“We’re going to emphasize people taking leadership in their own choices,” Whipple said. “There will be no pressure to talk, and we’re just giving people a chance to tell their stories.”

The mental health center will hold a grand opening on Thursday, May 31 from 5 to 7 p.m. It’s 7,000 square feet with four interview rooms, a training room, a peer support lounge office and a nursing exam room.

Health by design

Mental health court, nurses and peer support are located in the same place for the first time in Clackamas County at Centerstone. Many of the other unique features of the clinic involve design and architectural strategies.

“We didn’t reinvent the wheel, but a lot of the design features are based on new research,” Spiers said.

All of the chairs in the clinic’s waiting areas have their own wall or nook, so they aren’t backed up against each other, which can make some patients nervous. Some of the chairs can rock back and forth to help patients ease their tension. Interview rooms all have two doors so that patients don’t feel trapped.

“The crisis team was hidden behind the behavior health clinic, but now it’s much more visible,” Spiers said.

Through CCSO, two new mental health specialists are available to deputies to engage with a caller to 911 who, for example, says that something is coming through his ceiling to attack him. Centerstone gets all the police reports that mention mental health issues for possible outreach.

More than 20 full-time employees perform crisis support, investigate cases and operate a Warm Line for people who may be feeling unstable. The clinic’s annual budget is nearly $2.2 million, 56.5 percent of which comes from federal and state coffers.

Early intervention is more cost-effective, and it works better on an individual basis, points out Aaron Abrams, a community relations specialist for Clackamas County.

“We’re not a replacement for an emergency room, but many people use that much more expensive service unnecessarily,” Abrams said.

People who have committed non-violent crimes as a result of their mental illness can be convicted but avoid jail time by volunteering in a treatment program.

“We’re not a money-making operation, we’re a cost-avoidance organization to keep people out of the emergency room and keep them away from the sheriff’s office,” Spiers said.