Local coalition looking to build Tri-Cities Recovery Center, asking Franklin Co. commissioners for study funding

TRI-CITIES, Wash. – Currently, there’s no recovery center in the Tri-Cities for those suffering from addiction problems or mental health issues. Local leaders want to change that.

The Benton-Franklin County Coalition is looking to put a recovery center inside the old Kennewick General Hospital near Auburn Street and Eighth Avenue. Currently, it’s the site of the Trios Birthing Center.

“Both of our jails in Benton and Franklin counties right now serve as a “defunked” mental health facilities,” said Jason Bliss, Vice President of the coalition. “The jails are not set up and they were never designed to have to provide mental health services.”

To move forward, the coalition needs $50,000 to conduct a feasibility study.

“The whole purpose behind the feasibility study is to one – see if the building will work and two – if the numbers are going to work,” Bliss said.

Half of the funds have been approved by the hospital district and $12,500 will be given by Benton County, approved by commissioners. However, Franklin County commissioners did not come forward with the $12,500 needed to start the study.

“I think that’s a critical misstep by our commissioners,” said Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond. “It’s in their power to make — vote that way, but it’s also my power to start informing other community leaders such as councilmen, mayors and those types of people that that decision is going to impact.”

Raymond went in front of commissioners after the decision, hoping to change their minds.

According to Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck, he said at the meeting “I would love to see this proposal move forward and be successful. If $12,500 from Franklin County is the go or no-go that breaks it, then it’s not a viable model.”

“Our issue is only going to get bigger and bigger and bigger, it’s time for us as community leaders to think outside of the box,” Raymond said. “Just because it takes $12,500 to see if this might be a solution to fix the problem, it’s nothing when you look at the big scheme of things and it’s actually a good use of taxpayer dollars to do something like that.”

Raymond spoke in front of the Pasco City Council, expressing his concerns and the obstacles everyone is facing because of the lack of services.

“Our communities need to reach out and address it and do something that could make a difference,” Raymond said.

Those breaking the law are sent straight to jail, even if they have a mental health issue. They’re typically medically cleared, then taken to booking. Bliss said this isn’t right and it can take up to five hours for one officer to do all this.

“We’re hoping that by getting a behavioral health center open, that that will alleviate some of that stress on both of the jails, and better be able to get the folks in our community the help that they need,” Bliss explained. “That’s where they go because we really have no other choice here in the community for them [officers] to take them.”

If the coalition can move forward with the hospital being converted into a recovery center, it’ll feature a wide variety of services.

“Hopefully all behavioral health services from mental health, to inpatient and detox services as well where individuals from the community that were suffering with drug and alcohol issues could immediately come, be screened,” Bliss said.

The services will be accompanied by resources to help people get back on the right track. The closest recovery center is at least an hour away, and those beds are in just as high demand as the few local ones.

“We have nowhere right here in our community to send them,” Bliss said. “The time that they have that assessment to the time that we’re able to get them placed into a bed, into a mental health facility or into an inpatient facility, sometimes that can be up to a week or two weeks. By the time that happens, we’ve lost the person — that moment of clarity that they had when they first approached us is done gone.”

Bliss said they’ll go back to Franklin County commissioners with more details about the study and the recovery center in order to get the funding needed.

“Who knows what’s going to come as you start trying to figure out ways to provide the services or those type of things,” Raymond said. “I just know at the end of the day jail’s not the solution.”

The study is expected to be done in the next couple of weeks.