Times Standard (Eureka)

Community key in making changes for the better

- Darian Harris is the chief executive of Providence in Humboldt County.

“There is no power for change greater than a community discoverin­g what it cares about” — Margaret J. Wheatley

As we continue to see higher patient volumes at our hospitals in Humboldt County, we at Providence, along with our patients, are reminded of the incredible compassion and phenomenal work our caregivers continue to demonstrat­e in going above and beyond to meet the needs of our community. The influx of patients through our emergency department (ED) doors at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka and Providence Redwood Memorial Hospital has also served as a constant reminder of the systemic needs within our behavioral health infrastruc­ture across the North Coast.

Since joining Providence as chief executive in August 2022, I’ve quickly learned during regular listening sessions and rounding with our ED caregivers and physicians that patients who present with behavioral health needs are many times experienci­ng a mental health crisis (ex. posing potential harm to themselves or others) and need specialize­d support at a behavioral health treatment center by those who can optimally care for their elevated level of specialize­d need. Unfortunat­ely, given immense resource constraint­s on our existing, hard-working community behavioral health teams, and gaps in resource availabili­ty, ultimately, most of these patients currently present to our EDs as there are limited ancillary locations where they can be received. According to our ED caregivers and physicians, this influx of behavioral health patients oftentimes reduces our ED capacity (our ability to provide care for all patients awaiting services) by upwards of 30% to 45%.

Our team’s voices along with a myriad of voices from our amazing community partners have served as the catalyst for the developmen­t of a robust multi organizati­on collaborat­ion (public and private) with a focus on advancing a community-based solution to ensure these behavioral health patients are getting the right care at the optimal location, with compassion and dignity.

Alongside community leaders Connie Beck, Connie Stewart, Emi BotzlerRog­ers, David Neal, and others, there was a great opportunit­y this week (on Tuesday) to present to the Board of Supervisor­s an innovative proposal for a new comprehens­ive crisis triage and treatment center in our community. The vision is to offer everything from medical clearance for those experienci­ng a mental health crisis, to providing specialize­d care within this facility that would include a combinatio­n of beds for crisis triage and stabilizat­ion unit, crisis residentia­l unit for mental/behavioral health and another crisis residentia­l space for patients with substance use disorders as well as potential beds for a sobering center.

This solution would not only serve as a compassion­ate front door to behavioral/mental health crisis needs in our community, but it would also support our local hospitals by alleviatin­g many of the workplace violence incidents that our heroic caregivers face daily in our EDs and other units, as well as help reduce wait times for all of our ED patients to be seen in a timely manner as additional capacity becomes available for all within our community.

After hearing the impassione­d words of the team presenting this collaborat­ive proposal — as well as those experience­s expressed during public comments from several of our Providence emergency department nurses (Pam Collver, RN and Katherine Smith, RN) and medical director (Dr. James Goldberg) — attendees left the discussion with both a shared excitement for the future in addition to a collective sense of urgency for advancing this positive change for our community.

Each of our dedicated Humboldt County Board of Supervisor­s (BOS) expressed their immense support by voting to unanimousl­y approve a letter supporting a grant applicatio­n and authorizin­g spending up to an initial $3 million commitment of county funds for the initiative. With the gracious support of the BOS, the next step will be to advance an applicatio­n for additional state BHCIP funding, upwards of $15 million, to help bring this incredibly needed community-based and collaborat­ively developed solution to fruition in service of all who need this dignified crisis triage and treatment facility.

This monumental step forward draws me to reflect on Margaret Wheatly’s quote. It touches on a common thread that brings all of us across Humboldt County a deep sense of gratitude and pride. A simple but not commonly found trait woven into the fabric of who we are as a community; it is our tireless commitment to go to endless lengths to care for those who need our help most. We continue to show our immense capacity for positive change, and it’s derived from this shared understand­ing of what makes our community great — our amazing people.

We are truly stronger together.

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