Governor Steve Sisolak says he will look to federal COVID-19 relief funds to help Reno-area mental health providers already struggling with the upcoming closure of the area’s only pediatric acute care facility.
Sisolak, speaking during a layover Thursday at Quest Counselling in Reno, said he did not know the details surrounding the decision to abruptly close West Hills Behavioral Health on December 20. They clearly need some help.
“When another place closes, it widens the gap (in mental health services),” Sisolak told reporters after the roundtable. “We need to continue and increase the work that we’re doing with local partners to see how we can make sure these facilities get the funding and resources they need.”
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Staff at Quest, a behavioral health care clinic in southwest Reno, told the governor they’ve recently seen massive increases in middle and teen patients, a trend they expect will worsen after the West Hills closes.
They said that money from federal aid packages had been “very helpful” during previous COVID-era increases in patients, but had not proven enough to ease the 14-day waiting time for admission to a Quest inpatient facility.
Quest has six beds, compared to 95 in West Hills, 35 of which are for children.
Sisolak said two weeks are too long for anyone in crisis to wait for him to get help, and promised to do his best to free up some of the state’s roughly $9 billion in anti-coronavirus dollars approved by Congress.
“(Federal funding) is not as flexible as I would like it to be,” he added. “But if it’s about resources, we need to find resources that can be made available.”
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Sisolak, speaking during the fourth and final leg of a statewide “Healthcare Week” tour, noted that Nevada has been chronically underfunded for facilities that serve mentally challenged patients.
Ranked 49th in the nation for access to mental health services in 2020, Nevada was shaken by years of controversy over psychiatric hospital patients who, instead of treatment, got a round-trip bus ticket to California. However, other patients have had to survive squalid living conditions in group homes run by unorganized small business owners, a 2016 investigation by the Reno Gazette Journal revealed.
Jolene Dalon, executive director of Quest, said the upcoming shutdown of West Hills is likely to add to the current pressures on the state system. She and her colleagues hope the additional influx of funds will help them absorb some of the hospital’s former clients.
“It’s definitely going to have an impact,” Dalluhn said of the West Hills’ demise. “When we have someone injure themselves, the suicidal one (West Hills) is where we send them.
“I think what will happen is that community agencies like ours are trying to serve more people in the outpatient setting, because acute care is not going to be available.”
West Hills executives announced their intention to close the facility in late November, citing a number of factors including the “cost of renovating aging infrastructure,” according to KRNV Reno.
The hospital first opened in 1981. Reno Mayor Hilary Chevy lamented the loss of a tweet That urged officials to give local mental health providers greater access to federal COVID-19 funds.
James DeHavin is the political correspondent for the Reno Gazette. It covers campaigns, the Nevada legislature and everything in between. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com here.