Shuttering Crisis Center Will Leave Gap

Article excerpt

Byline: Susan Ban For The Register-Guard

When ShelterCare announced the imminent closure of the Royal Avenue Crisis Respite Program for people with acute mental illness, people asked, "What is crisis respite?" and "Why do we need a crisis program?" For many, it was easier to identify with the tragedy of lost jobs and layoffs than to grasp the significance of lost services.

To better understand the gravity of the Royal Avenue Program closure, it is important to answer those questions. Crisis respite is out-of-hospital care provided to people who are experiencing acute mental health issues, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Crisis programs allow residents to remain in the community during times of mental health crisis. ShelterCare's Royal Avenue Program alone serves approximately 550 people per year. These programs avert hospitalization and encourage a successful return to community living.

Lane County's multiple crisis programs have been operating for decades. When things are working well, this system keeps crises from disrupting the community. When the current system unravels because of funding cuts, the need for crisis intervention may become more apparent.

Imagine a 20-year-old who is experiencing the first debilitating symptoms of a major mental illness. Imagine the internal chaos she must feel, riding the waves of perceptual and emotional chaos that distort her world. Many times such a person has no safety net of knowledgeable family and friends to assess what is happening or to intervene and respond effectively. Often, this chaos is characterized by extreme anxiety and may prompt her to lash out at others or put herself in danger. This is a crisis.

In our community, the response has come from the local crisis system. We call it a "system" because it is an integrated web of mental health services provided by Lane County Mental Health, White Bird, CAHOOTS, crisis workers in hospital emergency departments, and ShelterCare's Royal Avenue Crisis Respite Program. This web of providers makes individual, clinically appropriate, supportive contact with each person in distress and gently directs him or her to a service that can offer an opportunity for rest and healing.

This year, the Oregon Legislature eliminated "indigent crisis funds." These funds underwrote much of the local crisis system. …