HANFORD – What would have been Kings County's first overnight mental health care facility is back on the drawing board after county supervisors rejected a proposed location.
The proposed eight-bed facility, where people experiencing a mental health crisis could stay voluntarily for up to approximately 30 days, was being proposed for a large house at 11591 Houston Ave.
It's on a rural stretch of road outside Hanford city limits where neighbors are separated by orchards and fields.
But after a neighbor heard that county officials had entered into escrow to buy the home, word spread like wildfire through the area.
Residents called county Supervisor Craig Pedersen to complain (the home is in his district).
Pedersen said the calls were "100 percent" against the proposed site.
He and other supervisors, meeting in closed session on May 2, decided to cancel escrow.
Pedersen said he didn't want to "commit a bunch of money to this house if people around [the site] weren't supportive."
"It's a needed facility, but it has to be in the right spot," Pedersen said. "We want it to be in a spot where the community is ready for it."
The supervisor's decision jeopardizes an approximately $1 million state grant Kings County obtained a year and a half ago to locate this type of facility in Kings County, according to Mary Anne Ford Sherman, director of Kings County Behavioral Health Services.
Sherman said the grant required the county to find an existing vacant house in a residential area and be in escrow by June 1, 2017, to purchase it.
The grant requires the facility to be open by the end of the year.
If the conditions aren't met, county officials will have to forfeit the money.
Ford Sherman said county officials are negotiating with state health officials trying to get them to extend the deadline.
Ford Sherman said county staff continues to search for an alternate location.
"We will find a way to make this happen," she said. "It's a huge need in our community."
Ford Sherman and other county officials say the facility would fill a glaring lack of overnight bed space in Kings for local residents who experience acute mental health needs that overwhelm their ability to handle the situation on their own.
Currently, local residents experiencing an acute mental health crisis end up in the Adventist Medical Center emergency room, where they may wait for 48 hours or more while officials attempt to locate a bed space for them in Visalia, Fresno, Bakersfield and even Ventura.
People coming in voluntarily or involuntarily for a mental health emergency can only legally be held for 72 hours as officials work to get them stabilized.
Ford Sherman said patients often just wait endlessly in the ER while officials look for a bed.
Ford Sherman said that bed space at the hospital is typically not available to them.
“If a patient in Kings County arrives to our ER and is having a mental health episode, we carefully evaluate them and then contact Kings View, which is our crisis team," said Amanda Jaurigui, a spokeswoman for Adventist Health, in a written statement. "When the team arrives, they then evaluate the patient.”
Adventist officials weren't available Wednesday for an interview to ask further questions about what happens to people who show up to the ER in a mental crisis situation.
Ford Sherman said in many cases bed spaces can't be found in surrounding counties that do have inpatient facilities.
Those facilities are typically full.
Ford Sherman said the proposed Houston Avenue facility would have served "a tremendous need in [Kings County]."
She described the proposal as a middle ground between counseling and a full-blown lockup facility where people could be held involuntarily in secure conditions.
She said it would ease pressure on the ER.
She stressed that patients admitted to the proposed facility would be there on a voluntary basis, meaning that people picked up by law enforcement and held involuntarily would not be placed there.
Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson said the dilemma of what to do with mental health crisis patients is a "major problem" locally.
"We're seeing more and more of these types of cases," he said. "They have to be sent out of the area. We'd love to have something in Kings County."
Ford Sherman said that in addition to the voluntary overnight facility, county health officials are looking into the possibility of opening a separate psychiatric facility in Kings that would have lockdown capability and could provide longer-term acute psychiatric care.