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Grant moves Arcata's new emergency mental health care facility forward

Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata has donated the land on which the new center will be built.
Mad River Community Hospital
Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata has donated the land on which the new center will be built.

Mental health care is severely lacking in Humboldt County, which has only one inpatient psychiatric hospital. The rural area has been impacted by compounding factors, like the opioid epidemic and COVID, and lacks funding for behavioral health treatment services.

Now, a grant of more than $12 million from the state's Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program will help create one solution.

That money will be used to build a new Behavioral Health Crisis Triage Center in Arcata, which will have beds for patients to sober up, a crisis stabilization unit and a substance use disorder residential treatment program, among other resources. Project leaders hope it will open in 2026.

The project is a partnership between Humboldt County Behavioral Health, Mad River Community Hospital, Cal Poly Humboldt and the City of Arcata.

Paul Bugnacki, deputy director at the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services Behavioral Health Branch, said the 43 beds in the center will have a big impact on the region.

"This is definitely going to help folks in crisis, as well as our emergency departments, who are holding a lot of individuals while we're looking for available treatment beds. So this will be a better setup for us to be able to treat people more quickly," he said.

Those beds will include 12 for a sobering center, 12 for a crisis stabilization unit (six for adults and six for children), 10 for substance use disorder residential treatment and nine for adult crisis residential beds.

Bugnacki acknowledged that the need for such services is great, but said even these 43 beds will "be a significant improvement in what we have available."

Patients in need of psychiatric care take up crucial space in hospital beds in the county. Individuals experiencing a mental health crisis are frequently brought to hospitals, but they often don’t need medical care. The staff there don’t have the comprehensive training to help these patients, and they have sometimes been assaulted.

The new center will serve people of all ages, regardless of their insurance status. Patients might stay at the center for anywhere from less than 24 hours to 90 days. Bugnacki said it will have a "short-term focus" and will transfer patients who need additional or more intensive treatment to other facilities.

The project will still need to raise more funding to be completed. Bugnacki declined to say how much additional money is needed. The project has also received grants from the American Rescue Plan Act and the County Medical Services Program.

He said he’s excited for how the center will impact the region.

"I'm really hopeful that we're going to be plugging some gaps in services that we've had the county for a number of years, and I think it's really going to make a difference. So I'm really excited, all of us are really excited about this and feel energized," he said.

The center will serve Humboldt County and be built on the Mad River Community Hospital campus, land which the hospital donated.

The county will contract with outside mental health providers, who will deliver services at the center. The next step will be searching for those contractors, as well as an architect and construction contractors.

“We are so excited to partner with the city, the county and the community to build a place where healing and hope begin," Mad River Community Hospital Chief Executive and Chief Nursing Officer David Neal said in a press release. "We’re proud that this project will benefit the community for decades to come.”

Jane Vaughan began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media. Jane earned her Master's in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.