Cascade Mental Health Forum Addresses Homelessness, Other Issues


Cascade Mental Health Care’s sixth mental health forum Tuesday was dominated by topics including homelessness, drug abuse, lack of housing and the mindset of hopelessness facing those with mental health and drug abuse issues.

The panel was composed of seven individuals including: Centralia City Councillor Peter Abbarno, 20th district Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, County Commissioner Edna Fund, 20th District Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, and 19th District Rep. Brian Blake, D-Longview. 

Some recurring themes of the forum included the call to use existing funds more efficiently, the need to build more affordable housing, a need for more long-term care programs for recovering addicts and the need for collaboration. 

“We are at a crisis continuum of care and it’s broken. There are a lot of things that are broken but there are a lot of people in this room that are working so hard to make Lewis County one of the best places to take care of our own people,” said Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza.

Prior to various speakers addressing the panel, the panel members spoke a bit about what issues they are currently focusing on. Between the seven of them, they touched on many topics including flooding, homelessness, suicide, domestic abuse, transportation, in-jail care and early learning.

“I think we had a big year in the legislature in terms of coming up with a long-term plan for mental health to get us out of the institutional approach,” said Braun. “We can’t just say we need more funding, it’s also about execution.”

There were 11 speakers from various organizations including Cascade Mental Health Care, Twin City Transit, United Way, and Providence Centralia Hospital.

Trish Geist, vice president and clinical director at Cascade Mental Health Care, addressed the positive impact she has seen regarding the mobile crisis unit which goes out into the community to deliver supplies and care. She told the panel that she would like to see a detox unit at Cascade in the future, more housing and better transportation services to and from Cascade.

“We are, quite frankly, the safety net for people who have (mental health care) needs,” said Kevin Caserta, a doctor with Providence Centralia Hospital.

He said they have added crisis caregivers in the emergency department seven days a week but are still struggling.

“In fact, in our hospitals, Centralia and St. Peter, almost every single day one of our caregivers is assaulted, generally by someone with dementia or behavioral health concerns.  … It’s really a triad we see with homelessness, mental health concerns and, of course, substance abuse,” said Caserta.

During the question portion of the forum there was time for about six questions or comments from the audience. One question was from Amber Smith, a civil deputy prosecuting attorney representing Lewis County, who asked that the panel take steps to clean up the Involuntary Treatment Act, which allows civil commitments for people in a mental health crisis. 

Smith asked that the Involuntary Treatment Act be made more streamlined so that her department can be more efficient in what they do. She said the act as written requires patients to be medically cleared at a hospital before they are able to go to a mental health care facility like Cascade. 

“Which results in taking an individual who is not well, not at their best and they’re being placed inside a hospital where they can potentially assault a staff member at a hospital giving themselves a felony charge instead of the help that they need,” said Smith. 

Some of the other questions asked touched on the need to “streamline funds,” get a head start preparing for the large amount of individuals who will be retiring in the upcoming years, and the lack of affordable housing for all Lewis County residents.

Josh Gerring, representing Bethel Church and the Hub City Mission, mentioned the services that they provide, including the severe weather shelter — which has been open 18 nights so far this season — a free lunch on Tuesdays, and a community nonprofit bike shop. 

“Whether it be through any of these things, we are really in the business of is hope restoration. That is what we are doing. How can someone be motivated to take positive steps in their life until they believe someone loves them, that they are valued, that they are seen,” said Gerring. 

Brett Mitchell, executive director with Reliable Enterprises, spoke about the drug court program and positive outcomes. Mitchell said the support they are looking for from the county is to pay for the beds and housing for the drug court participants. 

“We have to walk beside our clients. This is a shame-based disease and our society keeps it a shame-based disease and people are afraid to ask for help. Nobody should ever be afraid to ask for help for addiction because it is just as treatable as any other diseases out there,” said Mindy Greenwood, the program director of the Substance Use Department and Supportive Employment at Cascade.

Lewis County Public Health and Social Services Director J.P. Anderson emphasised the need to get local mental healthcare providers flexible dollars as well as spending state-only dollars more intelligently. 

“We’ve got costs for attorneys and court coming out of what should be treatment dollars, in my opinion. There needs to be separate funding for ITA (Involuntary Treatment Act) costs … taking providers out of competition with local courts is really necessary,” said Anderson.

Child Forensic Interviewer Samantha Mitchell with Youth Advocacy Center of Lewis County addressed the panel and said that of the 98 children she has interviewed in Lewis County so far this year, 245 types of abuse were identified. She asked for the support of the Lewis County Resilience Project.

“Our mission is to create a framework to support our community, schools and families by integrating trauma-informed practices and recognizing the importance of supporting trauma as it relates to creating a stronger and safer community,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell said not recognizing or addressing trauma affects the entire community’s wellbeing. She said it could cost Lewis County $17.4 million for 94 children she interviewed this year based only upon allegations of sexual abuse. 

“This number comes from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) which calculates that it costs over $215,000 in productivity loses, healthcare costs, special education, welfare and criminal justice for each child that has been sexually abused, not any other type of abuse,” Mitchell said.