Rocklin officials recommend ‘no’ on psych hospital

Police skeptical of safety measures
By: Andrew Westrope,
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After months of research, the jury is in: Rocklin city staff does not endorse the construction of the Northern California Behavioral Health Center, at least not at its proposed location near Whitney High School.

The Rocklin Planning Commission will decide whether or not to take this recommendation Tuesday, Jan. 19 when it votes on the proposal from project applicant Universal Health Services, a Pennsylvania-based hospital management company with more than 225 facilities nationwide.

The proposed 102-bed hospital would occupy 58,000 square feet on a vacant seven-acre parcel within the Orchard Creek business park on West Ranch View Drive, near the intersection of University Avenue. The planning commission has already delayed a public hearing on the proposal twice while UHS fielded questions and concerns from the public, mostly pertaining to the hospital’s suggested location less than 600 feet from Whitney High.

In a 686-page document published Jan. 6 on the city of Rocklin’s website, city staff makes its case against the hospital largely on the basis of a safety report by Police Chief Ron Lawrence. In his report, Lawrence analyzes how the facility would impact public safety, traffic safety and police department operations, and he concludes that the hospital would be a much-needed resource in Rocklin if built at least 2,000 feet away from any school. He says the proposal is consistent with local, state and federal laws, and would “serve (Rocklin) well and provide a much needed service to an underserved population.”

However, Lawrence goes on to list several concerns: possible walk-aways and escapes from the facility; HIPPA regulations that might prevent the hospital from giving police important patient information; inadequate distance from Whitney High School for safe lockdowns; the possibility of temporarily housing registered sex offenders so close to a school; inadequate assurances regarding the discharge of patients on foot, or those brought to Rocklin from other communities; and a need for better emergency radio infrastructure at the site.

“While there is no prescribed industry standard for a ‘safe’ distance to recommend relative to performing a school lockdown, Rocklin police and (the school district) need a reasonable amount of time to properly lock down the high school if necessary,” the report reads. “This would require more distance than the current proposed location.”

UHS spokesman Jose Hermocillo said Monday that the company was still weighing its options and had nothing to add to the response it issued last week. The statement, attributed to UHS Vice President Bob Deney, calls some of Lawrence’s safety recommendations “unprecedented” and says UHS will explore other project sites while asking the planning commission to approve the proposal as is.

“No community where we have built a behavioral health hospital has imposed conditions as extensive as those proposed by (Lawrence). In any case, we will closely evaluate these conditions while recognizing our obligation to ensure they do not discriminate in the use of property for the care and treatment of psychiatric patients when an area is zoned for the treatment of general hospital or nursing home patients,” the statement reads. “Our company remains committed to bringing much needed behavioral health services to this region and hope that, if we propose an alternative site on which to build a behavioral health hospital, the information relied upon by city officials and community members will be fact-based and not grounded in conjecture.”