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Mental health expansion delayed

A tight real estate market has prompted Jackson County Mental Health Services to delay opening a new mental health office in Ashland.

“We’re still in a process,” said Rick Rawlins, operations manager for the mental health department.

The opening was originally scheduled for after the first of the year but got pushed back, according to Rawlins, because of difficulty in identifying an appropriate building in the city.

Rawlins said a decision has not yet been made about whether to lease or buy the space. “It was easier in White City when we expanded out there because we already had a building.”

There are no planning issues associated with the facility, according to City Administrator Dave Kanner.

“No, there wouldn’t be a planning process," Kanner said. "They’d move into a building already available.”

The mental health department's presence would create access to therapists and case managers for people who have Medicaid coverage.

“It’s an ongoing need for expansion of services," Rawlins said. "We opened an office in White City and needed one in the south end of the county.”

Once Mental Health Services is able to find a building, the department must get approval from the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to spend the money.

Rawlins wouldn’t give specific details about what buildings are under consideration or the decision process but acknowledged the need, saying that an increase in covered services for Medicaid  patients has increased demand.

“Due to the expansion of services, more and more people have access," he said. "Anytime we can make that easier for patients, we want to.”

Jackson County's mental health expansion includes a grant to provide three new crisis workers who will work with Ashland police as well as Medford police and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.

Deputy Chief Warren Hensman of the Ashland Police Department said the assistance will be welcomed. He said the department is looking for space for the person and is creating protocol around the position.

“We wouldn’t want to put a civilian in harm’s way.” said Hensman.

But he described a scenario in which police are called to deal with a suicidal person. He said a crisis therapist could come in after the person has been calmed and provide support for a longer period of time than an officer could devote.

“How wonderful would it be to bring a person in who could talk to someone about what’s going on?” he said.

Hensman said officers receive quite a bit of crisis management training to defuse tense situations, but unlike crisis workers, they aren’t trained in long-term psychology and therapy.

Dr. Joel Feiner, a recently retired Ashland psychiatrist, said that long-term care after initial contact is crucial.

“Some will be happy to receive the help and some will resist, but after the first contact, then call in professionals for further engagement,” Feiner said.

He noted that many people in crisis, especially those who are homeless, may have a background of abuse and need ongoing care after the first responders are no longer present.

“We have ways to work with people," Feiner said. "It’s not easy but each person is unique. They have histories, trauma; they have been abused. Many have tried and failed. Many have skills and backgrounds that are significant but due to psychiatric and brain problems, they can’t continue.”

Ongoing treatment is key in those cases, he said.

When the crisis workers and mental health clinic will begin in Ashland is still unknown, according to Rawlins, but Kanner said the county is continuing to look for a property for the clinic and already has the grant for the crisis workers.

Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at akinsj@sou.edu and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.