New center aims to be a mental health crisis ER

Research suggests open spaces like this one in the Unity Center invites healing. (KATU Photo)

Each day is a struggle for Hope Glenn.

“Ten years doesn’t bring him back, so we just try to live each day,” she says.

On Sept. 16, 2006, her son Lukas was in crisis. His mother called 911, and told the dispatcher that her son was out of control, breaking windows and threatening the family with a knife.

Lukas was suicidal and holding a pocket knife. Washington County sheriff’s deputies considered him a threat and shot him dead.

“Your whole life changes, you know, in a couple of minutes,” Hope says.

Now 10 years later she still fears for families who have to call police when a loved one’s in trouble.

“I think there’s really great police out there that do amazing things, and then I think there’s others who could use a lot more training,” says Hope.

She does feel encouraged about a new place, the Unity Center. It’s essentially a mental health crisis ER. Right now, people go to a traditional emergency room.

“They are specialized in heart attacks and broken bones, so this is really a part of the puzzle that it was lacking,” says Dr. Chris Farentinos, a psychiatrist who runs the center.

The center’s staff is training for the grand opening.

“Instead of long waits, active treatment starts right away,” Farentinos says.

Research suggests an open community space, like what the center provides, invites healing, though there are plenty of private rooms, too.

“One of our missions is to normalize mental illness, normalize addiction, to normalize these brain disorders that are nothing more than that, and that are treatable,” Farentinos says. “It’s shifting that way of looking at a patient (from) ‘what’s wrong with you?’ to ‘what happened to you?’”

Sgt. Christopher Burley oversees the Portland Police Bureau’s Behavioral Health Unit.

“A lot of the members of the Bureau are encouraged by the Unity Center,” he says.

The bureau’s unit partners with clinicians to connect people to services. It also has officers trained in “enhanced crisis intervention.’

“We know it’s going to be a challenging call, and so we want our officers to be trained to the best of their ability so that they can assist the person in finding the appropriate resources so we don’t harm them,” Burley says.

Clackamas and Washington counties have officers who take a similar approach. That is encouraging to Hope, even if it’s too late for Lukas.

“He was a great kid, and I think he would have done really good things in this world,” she says.

The Unity Center’s in-patient center opens Jan. 31. The average stay is eight days. The emergency psychiatric center opens two days later on Feb. 2.

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