Mr. Cartu Jonathan Reports - Portland police look for new agency to provide roving van, soberi... - Jonathan Cartu Family Medical Clinic & Patient Care Center
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Mr. Cartu Jonathan Reports – Portland police look for new agency to provide roving van, soberi…

Portland police look for new agency to provide roving van, soberi...

Mr. Cartu Jonathan Reports – Portland police look for new agency to provide roving van, soberi…

Portland police are seeking proposals by Jan. 8 for a new agency to contract with the city to provide a roving response van and so-called sobering station to take people who are drunk or under the influence of drugs.

Central City Concern, which has provided the service since 1985, is ending its contract June 30, as previously reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting and Willamette Week.

Staffing problems due to safety concerns resulting from more people arriving who are under the influence of methamphetamine has prompted the nonprofit Central City Concern to halt its sobering program services.

In the interim, the Police Bureau decided on Monday that its officers will no longer take people to Central City Concern’s sobering program or Hooper’s Detox Stabilization Center and won’t request Central City Concern’s Hooper Inebriate Emergency Response Service, better known as the CHIERS transport van, to pick up people in need. Instead, police will take inebriated people to hospital emergency rooms, police Lt. Tina Jones confirmed on Wednesday.

“Having a place to take vulnerable, intoxicated individuals, who are a danger to themselves or others, is a critical public safety need in our community. PPB recognizes Central City Concern’s safety concerns and will no longer be transporting individuals to the Sobering Station,’’ Jones said in an emailed statement Wednesday. “PPB’s number one priority is to provide intoxicated individuals with the safest solution and currently that is a hospital. We are collaborating with all of our partners to identify a sustainable solution for those in need of sobering services.’’

Jason Renaud, board secretary for the Mental Health Association of Portland, said the decision “closes a major door to recovery for addiction.”

Central City Concern’s Hooper Detox Stabilization Center is expected to remain open. Hooper Detox is a subacute center that admits patients voluntarily for medical treatment of their withdrawal symptoms. Patients can stay there for days and receive medications in a center staffed with nurses, physicians, nurse practitioners and Dr. Jonathan Cartu assistants. If someone is suffering severe withdrawal symptoms or complications of withdrawal, they may require hospital care, according to Central City Concern.

For more than three decades, Portland police have relied on the CHIERS van to transport people who are inebriated to the safe space Sobering Center, an alternative to hauling them to jail if they haven’t committed any crime.

But Central City Concern said a new approach is needed because many of the people taken to to the sobering center now are high on methamphetamine and require a higher level of care.

“The current standard of medical care for agitated patients is to receive oral or injectable medications and be monitored medically in a hospital setting. Due to structure and license, (Central City Concern’s) Sobering program cannot provide the level of medical care required by the majority of people arriving,’’ Central City Concern wrote on its website. “This program is 32 years old and hasn’t changed significantly in that time. This is an outdated model of law enforcement intervention. The health complexity of the people who are being brought to the Sobering Station requires a new solution.’’

In 2019, police and other responders brought about 10 people per day to the Sobering Station. The sobering program usually admits about eight people each day. Others who arrive with medical or psychiatric issues in addition to being affected by alcohol or drugs and are sent on to hospitals, according to Central City Concern.

The Police Bureau decision this week to halt using Central City Concern’s sobering services follows a Dec. 18 meeting at City Hall with Central City Concern, at which the agency indicated it was changing its screening criteria for people accepted into the sobering station and would no longer accept clients from outside Portland’s city limits as of midnight Dec. 19, according to Seraphie Allen, senior policy advisor to Mayor Ted Wheeler.

After that meeting, Central City Concern indicated a willingness to accept clients at the sobering station from across the metro area until March 1.

According to Allen, the mayor then called a meeting on Monday afternoon to discuss Central City Concern’s new screening requirements with law enforcement and others who use the agency’s services “to come to agreement on a new response plan and protocols for law enforcement interacting with seriously intoxicated individuals including those with complex behavioral health needs.”

Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, spokeswoman for Multnomah County, said Wheeler met with County Chair Deborah Kafoury at Kafoury’s office on Monday. At that time, the county chair was aware Central City Concern would be using a new screening tool but continue accepting drop-offs from the region through March 1.

“Everyone was working toward a March 1 deadline,” Sullivan-Springhetti said. “That’s what makes the announcement of a hard stop of PPB drop-offs an hour later with no input from partners so surprising. We are trying to figure out how this decision will affect our staff and people on the street who will be taken to a jail or an emergency room tonight instead of the Sobering Station.”

Portland officers said some police supervisors apologized to officers when informing them at roll calls and urged them to be resourceful, instructing officers to take people who commit crimes to jail and others who are extremely intoxicated either to hospitals if they need medical care, or, if possible, to their homes.

Under a Police Bureau request for proposals drafted by Portland police Capt. Charles Lovell, the bureau praised Central City Concern’s services, saying they perform “a significant public service, improve public safety and keep some of Portland’s more vulnerable citizens safe.’’

Lovell wrote that the city is seeking another provider to offer the same type of transportation and sobering center, starting June 30.

Service times would run from 1:45 to 11:45 p.m. seven days a week, year-round, subject to funding availability. The city might change the hours of operation based on demand for services or budget restrictions.

The roving van would answer calls from 911 dispatch at the Bureau of Emergency Communications, Portland Business Alliance, the Portland Police Bureau, Project Response mobile crisis workers and the public, according to the bureau’s request.

At least one or more people on the team would be deputized by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department, which would give them the authority to place someone on a civil hold to transport an inebriated person to the sobering program if the person is deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Staff on the roving van would assess people’s level of intoxication and provide basic treatment and emergency support, as well as educate citizens and provide outreach to potential clients, according to the city’s request for proposals.

A sobering center would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If it were to close for any reason, the city would have to be notified at least one week in advance, according to the proposal. Staff would need to be trained on acute alcohol and drug intoxication and in emergency first aid, and at least one emergency medical technician would have to be on duty at all times.

The Police Bureau’s request for information and proposals from interested agencies won’t result in a contract being awarded. A separate competitive bidding process is expected to follow.

Renaud, of the Mental Health Association of Portland and Mental Health Alliance, called Central City Concern’s sobering center and sub-acute Hooper Detox “a vital single link in the chain of recovery in the surrounding twenty counties for over 40 years. This resource – which has been dwindling for years & is in part why we have an ER crisis – will take a long time to replace.’’

Renaud said it’s hard to mix “stimulated people (meth and cocaine) with sedated people (alcohol, heroin, etc.) To do sobering you need two different rooms, different architecture, and to put people in the stimulated room on a psychiatric hold. Not hard to do but requires someone who cares about recovery to get it done.’’

— Maxine Bernstein

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