In 2010, Cascade Mental Health Care had a problem.
One of its Designated Mental Health Professionals was consistently struggling to find a place for patients who were mentally ill and/or a danger to themselves and others.
“We needed a place to put them,” says Chief Financial Officer Michele Wilsie, “but never in our wildest dreams thought it would happen here.”
Eight years later, the new Cascade Evaluation and Treatment Center is ready to open its doors in the heart of Lewis County. The road to get here has been bumpy and included a few setbacks, but the nonprofit organization persisted and secured funding for the center, which will begin offering services this month.
The need for the facility was never in doubt. Until now, patients who were suicidal, homicidal, or dealing with mental health issues ended up at Western State Hospital in Lakewood or Eastern State Hospital near Spokane.
“Our hospital doesn’t do single-bed certifications,” says Wilsie. “Sometimes it could take hours to find someone a bed, especially after all the closures at Western.”
Lack of resources meant patients couldn’t be treated in their own community, and family members found distance a barrier to visiting.
“That made it more difficult for them to recover,” Wilsie explains. “Some people said, ‘Do we really want these people in our community?’ My response is, ‘They’re already here. They’re just not getting treated.’”
Seattle-based architect Ron Wright designed the building based on years of experience creating similar facilities. One of the central principles is harm reduction.
“The point is to minimize the ability for someone to hurt themselves if they have the mind to do so,” says Wright.
Features include doors to private rooms that open backward so no one can barricade himself, eliminating nooks and crannies for patients to hide, and creating a central point with visibility in all directions so staff can easily monitor the building. Wright also added another layer of padding to the floors.
“In case someone has to be restrained, a little extra padding can save an elbow,” he notes.
The initial concept for the center remained just that until a local legislator came out for a tour of Cascade’s headquarters around 2010.
“It turned out he was on the capital budget committee,” says Wilsie. “At the end of the tour, he asked, ‘Is there anything else we can do for you?’ When we explained our idea, he told us to fill out an application.”
Cascade secured $3 million in funding from the State Department of Commerce, but still needed to raise $5 million, an ambitious goal for a nonprofit organization. One loan fell through, and what looked to be a promising potential through the USDA didn’t pan out.
Finally, they were able to secure the remainder of the funding through Security State Bank, with the Washington Health Care Facilities Authority issuing a bond against the project.
“Security State did everything they could to help us,” says Wilsie. “We also had nothing but support from the City of Centralia, the county commissioners, and the Sheriff’s Office. The Port of Centralia helped us with activities required for the building.”
Michael Cholerton, president of BPCI Construction, took on an advisory role throughout the preconstruction phase.
“He went with us to each potential site and helped us make sure we were buying the most appropriate piece of property for the least amount of expense,” says Wilsie. “He took us through the financing process and made sure we had a solid budget.”
The 19,400-square-foot building sits on a 2.3-acre lot that was already pre-graded and is several blocks away from Cascade’s existing facility.
“The site works costs were low, and the infrastructure was already in place,” says Cholerton. “That reduced costs significantly.”
The 22-bed structure is split into a six-bed voluntary unit and a 16-bed involuntary unit. Each has a kitchen, common areas, showers, laundry rooms, and activity rooms. A meeting room has a separate entrance so that it can be used after hours.
“It’s 1,500 square feet and has its own kitchen,” says Cholerton. “It will be open for the public to reserve and have community meetings.”
He credits Cascade’s Wilsie, Chief Executive Director Richard Stride, and Chief Clinical Officer Matt Patten for envisioning the project and seeing it through.
“It’s quite a risk for a nonprofit to take that on. I admire them for taking that chance,” Wright agrees. “These facilities are desperately needed, and it’s a credit to Cascade that they saw this through,” he says. “The state is beginning to place more emphasis on funding these types of facilities. This is a model that will be a huge benefit to the community.”
The Center will add an estimated 35-45 jobs in Lewis County, and training is already underway.
Locally, residents are eager to see the site up and running.
“There’s been a huge recognition of the fact that this is so needed,” says Wilsie. “From medical professionals and law enforcement, we keep hearing how much they want people to be supported and treated.”
When the process started, she had doubts.
“We’re dealing with an issue that has so much stigma,” she says. “We didn’t know how much support we were going to get from the community. It’s been overwhelming, and I’m so proud that we’re the ones who have brought this to fruition with the support of people who’ve stepped in where they could.”