Health & Medicine

Rocklin mental health facility raises concerns

Parents can employ a number of strategies to get adult children dealing with mental health issues the help they need, according to retired San Luis Obispo therapist Linda Lewis Griffith.
Parents can employ a number of strategies to get adult children dealing with mental health issues the help they need, according to retired San Luis Obispo therapist Linda Lewis Griffith. Detroit Free Press

A company that operates mental health centers across the nation said it has found an ideal spot in northwest Rocklin to build a 100-bed hospital for those who need short-term treatment in a secured facility.

The proposed site is a 7-acre vacant lot in a commercially zoned area on Whitney Ranch Road near Highway 65. The area is being developed as a medical hub for the growing city of 60,000 and surrounding areas of Placer County.

“We want to be part of the fabric of the community,” said Ixel Morell, an executive in Sacramento with Universal Health Services, the firm that wants to build the Northern California Behavioral Health Hospital.

Worried residents, however, noted the proposed 58,000-square-foot lockdown facility is a just short walk from Whitney High School and next door to a senior housing complex. Safety concerns haven’t been adequately addressed in the planning process, they said.

More than 1,300 people have signed an online petition to “Stop the building of an Inpatient Psychiatric Hospital next to parks and schools.”

Critics contend Rocklin officials showed a lack of impartiality by posting the developer’s answers to frequently asked questions about the project on the city’s website without attribution. One city official suggested the operator bring in a former pro football star to be its spokesman, they said.

“(City officials) have been facilitating a public relations campaign on behalf of the hospital, although they’re saying publicly that they’re neutral,” said Joe Patterson, a Rocklin resident and leading critic.

Patterson insisted he’s not against building a mental hospital in Rocklin but believes there are more suitable locations than on the edge of a residential neighborhood near a school. He said he wants a more open process so that the public can weigh in.

Morell, business development director at Sierra Vista Hospital in south Sacramento, said his company is planning to hold town hall meetings before a Rocklin Planning Commission hearing that likely will be rescheduled to January to allow for more public input.

Troy Holt, manager of special projects for Rocklin, said the city remains neutral on the treatment facility and was trying to help educate residents by posting the company’s answers to frequently asked questions. The responses are still available on the city’s website but now say: “Answers are based on information provided by Universal Health Services, Inc.”

Holt said it’s up to the company seeking to develop the site, not the city, to convince people it’s a good idea.

“We’re trying to do the right thing to put information out,” Holt said. “UHS needs to engage the community about the project. Our role is nonbiased.”

He said he suggested that former Dallas Cowboy Herschel Walker come to Rocklin because he understood Walker was a spokesman for Universal Health Services. “I said, ‘Can you engage your national spokesman to help educate the public on this issue?’ ” Holt said.

Morell said Walker is connected with the company and has given presentations talking about his own struggles with mental illness. He didn’t say if the former NFL star would come to Rocklin, but he said the company was planning to hold at least two community meetings before a Planning Commission meeting now planned for mid-January.

“We feel there’s a need in Placer County for mental health services,” Morrell said. “Right now there’s no mental health hospital in Placer County at all. Families in the Rocklin-Roseville-South Placer area are being impacted on a daily basis by loved ones not being able to receive those services in their communities.”

Universal Health Services operates two hospitals in Sacramento County – one near the intersection of Highway 99 and Bruceville Road and the other on Auburn Boulevard near Interstate 80.

Online reports from the Sacramento Police Department and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department show only a handful of crimes in the immediate vicinities of the hospitals in the past six months, including thefts, vandalism, burglary and one assault, but don’t indicate whether any of the crimes were associated with current or former patients.

Morell said security is paramount at the company’s facilities, including automatic locking doors and 24-hour supervision. A majority of patients at the Rocklin facility will be treated on an involuntary basis, often after being transferred from the emergency rooms of general hospitals, he said.

California law allows a peace officer or medical clinician to detain a person for up to 72 hours for mental evaluation and treatment if they appear to be a danger to themselves or to others.

Patterson said he and others are worried about “escapes,” but Morell said patients “leaving a facility prior to discharge” are rare.

“Our patients are not criminals,” Morell said. “They’re family members, neighbors and those who are struggling in the community with mental health issues” and in need of intensive short-term treatment. Emergency rooms can’t treat such patients, and getting them into an appropriate facility is crucial, he said.

Patterson said he doesn’t dispute the need for mental-health care in Rocklin but questions if it belongs 600 feet from a high school and next door to an assisted-living complex.

Originally the city’s Planning Commission was going to consider the project on Nov. 17, and the public comment period closed Nov. 13 with little fanfare. After Patterson and other members of the public raised concerns, the meeting was moved to Dec. 15. Then, on Friday, Universal Health Services requested it be rescheduled to January to allow for public input, Holt said.

Patterson said the public still needs an opportunity to ask important questions, especially about safety, as part of the official planning process.

“We call on the city, if they approve the delay, to reopen public comment to at least beyond the first town hall so we have an opportunity to submit written questions requiring an answer,” he wrote in an email Friday.

Hudson Sangree: 916-321-1191, @hudson_sangree