Fresno Mental Health Clinic Closed

June 29, 2009 10:01:34 PM PDT
Fresno County's crisis center for the mentally ill is closed as of Monday. Some have predicted the closure would lead to an overflow of severely mentally ill patients at hospital emergency rooms. But others predict a huge cut in the county's mental health budget could be a good thing for the mentally ill in the long run.44-year old Lisa Rankins comes to the Blue Sky Wellness Center in central Fresno nearly every day. Lisa tried to take her life at 18. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression and has spent time in prison because of drug and alcohol abuse. The Blue Sky Wellness Center is a refuge for Lisa. She and other mentally ill clients come here to eat, do school work or just play.

"It's someplace where I can come to and relax and do some arts and crafts or shoot some pool ... just to stay active," says Lisa.

The Blue Sky Wellness Center is an example of the county's new approach. Mental Health Director Giang Nguyen says the focus is on more intervention and prevention and less crisis reaction.

Nguyen said, "We have restructured, re-engineered the system to provide better, more effective, more quality care for consumers in facing a budget shortfall."

Fresno County supervisors voted to close the area's only crisis center for the mentally ill. In its place, an urgent care center is open Monday through Saturday during the day. The county still has a residential facility for the mentally ill where they stay overnight if they need to. It's just the money is coming from a different source. It's coming from Prop 63 monies - which is a tax on millionaires that goes specifically to the mentally ill across the state. Some fear this new system could overload emergency rooms -- since that's where severely ill patients are now taken involuntarily.

Mental Health Specialist Curtis Thornton says, "A lot of the emergency personnel aren't' trained and they're gonna have to wait for a crisis team to go to them and there really isn't a large enough crisis team to deal with these situations."

Mental Health Director Nguyen hopes the county's new intervention strategy will prevent an E-R overload. Both she and her detractors say time will tell how beneficial this restructuring will be.

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