County construction bids add fencing for mental health facility to alleviate safety concerns of neighboring residents
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – A controversial mental health facility is expected to open later this year after the county moved forward on plans to remodel the building.
At its Feb. 27 meeting, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved bid documents to remodel the former Tulare-Kings Builders Exchange, located at the corner of Lovers Lane and Tulare Avenue, into a Visalia Wellness and Recovery Center for Tulare County Mental Health Services.
The building, located at 1223 S. Lovers Lane, was purchased in December 2016 and requires new furnishings, partial demolition, site improvements, additional concrete, rough carpentry, metal studs, wood doors and prefinished frames, sealants, finishes, plumbing, mechanical and electrical work.
One major difference in the plans for the facility is a perimeter fence. During several community outreach and listening sessions last year, neighboring residents requested a fence be added to address security concerns of the clientele.
About 50 community members attended two community listening sessions last February, most of whom were not in favor of the facility. Some of the issues raised were mental health patients sharing a bus stop with children on Lovers Lane, unstable mental health patients being treated near homes, and an increase in the number of homeless people.
Dr. Timothy Durick, director of Mental Health Services for the County, explained on more than one occasion that the 5,600-square foot facility would not operate as a treatment clinic, methadone clinic, medication service provider nor a residential program. The facility is drug and alcohol free and would serve individuals who are near the end of their “wellness and recovery journey” and not those recently diagnosed or receiving “intensive services.” He also reiterated that recovering addicts and sex offenders are treated in completely different programs, such as the criminal justice system, and not through mental health services.
Dr. Christie Lupkes, who oversees the Managed Care Division of Mental Health Services for Tulare County, said there will be a maximum of 50 people attending various activities at the facility but usually no more 20 or 30 at one time. Mental Health patients in Tulare County typically are diagnosed with post traumatic stress, borderline personality, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. Instead of receiving “treatment” these people will have peer counseling sessions and classes. Classes could include cooking, budgeting, computer classes, interviewing skills and vocational training that are supervised by mental health professionals and structured to provide a sense of normalcy.
Colleen Overholt, regional clinical services director for Kings View, said it is difficult to project exactly what type of activities would be at the center because that is largely decided by the community and those seeking services there. She said there are about 60 wellness centers operating throughout California that offer varying activities that touch on the eight dimensions of health: emotional, financial, social, spiritual, occupational, physical, intellectual and environmental.
Once completed, this will be Mental Health Service’s second wellness and recovery center. The first opened in Porterville last May. The facility, operated by Kings View Behavioral Health Systems in Kings County, employs three full-time County employees and 10 part time peer staff members to run programming. The peer staff members who have either been diagnosed with a mental health issue or who have cared for a family member with a mental disorder. The monthly calendar is full of art classes, gardening, cooking courses and fun activities such as game nights and karaoke.
The Supervisors have set a bid opening for 2 p.m. on April 5 for the Visalia Wellness and Recovery Center remodel project. It is estimated that the construction will take 150 days.
In addition to adding a wall, Mental Health Services also approved new hours for the Visalia center. Winter hours proposed for the center are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Summer hours would be extended until 7 p.m. on weeknights.