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Mental Health Center May Be Forced to Close

June 25, 1989|ELIZABETH LU | Times Staff Writer

ARCADIA — Facing a new deadline to close by August, the Arcadia Mental Health Center is working with a reduced staff and has trimmed its caseload from a high of 2,000 several years ago to about 60 now, the center's director said.

The center continues to offer its 24-hour mobile Psychiatric Emergency Team, which assists law enforcement agencies by evaluating and transporting mentally ill people, but now staffs it with three counselors instead of five, director John Wells said.

"We're doing the best we can to respond to their emergencies," Wells said. The 330 E. Live Oak Ave. center serves a San Gabriel Valley district stretching from Altadena to San Dimas and from Monterey Park to Walnut.

Soon after the February announcement that the center might close, Wells said, several patients became despondent and at least six have attempted suicide. "They felt they are losing their support system," he said.

Continuing Reduction

No specific date has been set for the closing, part of a continuing reduction in mental health services as Los Angeles County struggles with budget cutbacks. On June 9, three county mental health centers--East San Fernando Valley in North Hollywood, Coastal Community in Carson and a Wilmington center--closed after mental health advocacy groups lost a court battle to prevent the closings.

County officials said $15 million is needed to keep the remaining 25 clinics open, but they expect to receive only $5.4 million from the state. The Arcadia center and four others, among eight originally targeted for closing, received a reprieve after the County Board of Supervisors approved additional funding in February.

Through resignations, retirements or transfers, the center's staff of 30 has decreased to 23, plus one part-time employee, Wells said. Of the 23, 11 are professionals: Wells, another psychiatrist and nine social workers, nurses and technicians.

Most of the 625 patients the center was treating in February have been transferred to five private clinics that have contracts with the county: Pacific Clinic East in Duarte, Pacific Clinic in Pasadena, La Puente Valley Community Mental Health Center, Mid-Valley Community Mental Health Council in Baldwin Park and the Foothill Community Mental Health Center in Glendora.

Longer Waiting List

Doug Parker, associate director of the Mid-Valley Council, which received 50 patients from Arcadia, said the increase at his clinic has resulted in slightly longer waiting lists for appointments. "The transition is a little frustrating for them," he said.

There is no waiting list at the La Puente center, a 10-month-old facility that agreed to accept 200 patients from Arcadia and has seen about half, said director Rose Massa. La Puente staff members have tried to contact referrals by mail or telephone, Massa said. The center also added El Monte and South El Monte to the 16 cities in its service area.

For the Arcadia center, however, the stress has hurt staff morale, Wells said. "This is our fifth straight year of being put on the block for closure soon."

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