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Mental health services grow in Southern Nevada

Services are expanding for those suffering from mental health problems in Southern Nevada.

WestCare, a nonprofit, will open a 51-bed triage facility within the next two weeks.

And on Thursday, the state opened the Stein forensic unit at the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital campus, which will serve a different kind of population — offenders sent there by the courts.

The triage beds are for people who would “otherwise be taken to jail or the (emergency room),” said Bob Vickrey, director of the community triage center for WestCare.

“There’s a tremendous need to divert those clients,” he said Thursday. “We are reducing the number of unnecessary visits to the ER? Yes, we are. Is there still a need? Yes, there is. The greater need is just more beds.”

The issue grabbed most of the attention from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Council, which he established through executive order in December 2013 to help improve the state’s mental health services.

The council’s recommendations were made to address the emergency room crisis. A large number of mentally ill people were showing up at emergency departments ill equipped to treat them. This at times prompted the ERs to close their doors to new patients because the facilities were over capacity.

There was an expansion in the number of beds to address that issue as a result of the council recommendations.

Sandoval is in the process of reconvening the council, according to his spokeswoman, Mari N. St. Martin.

“He believes that moving forward, the focus of the council should be narrowed to ensuring continued progress of past recommendations and local governance,” she said in writing earlier this month.

The 22,000-square-foot WestCare triage facility, at 323 N. Maryland Parkway, is the latest expansion of services to help the population that in past years was clogging the emergency rooms.

“We are trying to eradicate that,” Vickrey said.

WestCare invested the money for the new facility, but as of Friday, its officials couldn’t say how much it cost. The state, local hospitals and jurisdictions each pay a portion of the cost for WestCare’s triage services.

The new facility will have 45 staff members, including registered nurses, and will be open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, Vickrey said.

The facility, which is designated as a medical detox model, will take walk-ins, but will also pick up patients from emergency rooms if called by hospitals, he said.

The criteria for a person to be seen at the triage center is to be in need of a detox from drugs or alcohol, Vickrey said. But once assessed, clients often have co-occurring disorders, which means that they might suffer from a mental health condition and they self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

The facility will refer clients with mental health needs to the appropriate services, Vickrey said.

“Stabilizing them is just the first step,” he said.

WestCare will continue to operate its other existing facility at a different location. It will be designed as a social detox model, where no medical intervention is needed, Vickrey said. That facility has been open for several years.

Amid these changes, the state opened the Stein facility, which will be the Las Vegas equivalent of Lake’s Crossing Center in Sparks. Until Thursday, Lake’s Crossing was the state’s only maximum-security psychiatric facility for treating offenders to restore their competency to be able to stand trial.

Lake’s Crossing has experienced chronic overcrowding over the past decade that has left many inmates languishing in jail.

The facility in Southern Nevada is supposed to be the long-term plan to fix the problem, which has led to two lawsuits.

The 47-bed facility admitted six patients on its opening day, said Chrystal Main, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services. Officials will continue to phase in the number of patients.

“The purpose of that is to ensure the safety of the population,” said Cody Phinney, administrator for the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, emphasizing the safety of not only patients, but also staff.

Of the 92 new positions approved by state lawmakers during this year’s legislative session, 35 have been filled and 17 more are scheduled to be filled starting in December, according to state documents.

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3843. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.

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