Rocklin police, school chiefs talk psych hospital

Both want more info before endorsing the project
By: Andrew Westrope,
-A +A

A divisive proposal to build a psychiatric hospital near Whitney High School has prompted vocal reactions for and against the idea, but for two organizations most concerned with the neighborhood’s safety – Rocklin Police Department and Rocklin Unified School District – the jury is still out.

A Pennsylvania-based hospital management company called Universal Health Services first contacted the city of Rocklin about the project in April 2014, and has since proposed the construction of a 102-bed, 58,000-square-foot facility less than 600 feet from Whitney High, on a vacant seven-acre parcel adjacent and west of a senior living complex.

Tentatively called Northern California Behavioral Health Hospital, the facility would treat patients with various psychiatric diagnoses, but none that qualify a person as criminally insane. According to an official project description from UHS, the hospital would treat mood disorders, post-traumatic stress, anxiety or depression, substance abuse issues, psychosis or suicidal ideation, among other things, and most patients would arrive via ambulance or police vehicle.

As of Tuesday afternoon, a petition against the project had amassed 1,512 signatures and counting, citing conflicting information from UHS and fears about what sort of patients the hospital would introduce to the school’s neighborhood.


Rocklin Police Chief Ron Lawrence awaits data

Rocklin Police Chief Ron Lawrence said his first meeting with UHS officials occurred Oct. 29, and it mostly revolved around operational aspects of the hospital. It left him with a lot of questions, he said, as meetings about major projects often do.

“The reason I asked for that meeting is because the proposal that came from (Rocklin’s) Economic and Community Development Department … really only consisted of things like building elevation, plot maps, landscaping, that type of thing,” Lawrence said. “It was after that that I directed my staff to conduct an analysis on behalf of the police department, and I wanted to know certain things.”

These included: how often police get called to UHS hospitals in other law enforcement jurisdictions, how those hospitals handle discharge of patients, whether those hospitals accept patients being held by law enforcement for mental health concerns, how those hospitals handle walk-aways, and if those hospitals notify law enforcement when a patient is discharged on foot instead of being picked up by family or friends.

Lawrence said he asked for this information from law enforcement offices in Sacramento, Torrance and Reno, all of which contain hospitals owned by UHS.

“It’s certainly a concern of mine, if people get discharged on foot and they have no transportation or family member picking them up, or transportation has not been provided, or they don’t have a transitional housing plan,” he said. “It’s my understanding from (UHS’) staff that discharging someone on foot is something they do not like to do, but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen or it won’t happen, so that’s certainly a concern of mine. Whether those people end up being homeless or not, certainly that’s a question to still be answered.”

Lawrence said he would present his findings in a public safety report to the Rocklin Planning Commission in meeting on Jan. 19, 2016. He stressed that the safety review of UHS’ proposal has been routine, and it is also incomplete.

“I get the impression that some people in the community feel like this project is a lot further down the road than it really is, and I get the impression that some people are feeling like the city is kind of pushing this thing through,” he said. “I want to assure people that that’s not the case. This project is taking the regular process just like any other proposal, and we’re in the middle of that analysis and our review of it right now.”

One concern Lawrence quelled without research is that Sunset Whitney, as one of the farthest neighborhoods from the police station, would have slower response times in the event of an escape or other emergency. He pointed out that response times are not an issue, because police patrol the city in four separate beats, or zones, and respond in their own areas, not from the police station.


Superintendent Roger Stock commissions new report

RUSD Superintendent Roger Stock said he was first made aware of the hospital proposal this fall, over the course of regular conversations with city staff. He said those talks were about basic information and the city’s approval process – everything from the hospital’s specific location and services to its potential impacts on traffic.

As the full authority to approve the project rests with the city, he said, RUSD’s main role is to ask questions.

“However, it is near one of our high schools, and (discussions) are also making sure we’re aware of any impacts on our children, families and employees,” Stock said.

He added that the district has received a lot of input from families, particularly at the Nov. 18 school board meeting, which prompted the board to direct Stock to commission an independent report on how the hospital could impact Whitney High.

He said the district hired a law firm to investigate, but he wouldn’t say which one.

“That report is still being developed, and we’re waiting to see what the findings are in that report before the board makes any decision on a district position,” he said.

Asked whether he had any outstanding questions about the hospital, Stock said answering them is the business of the forthcoming research. He added that the report is already an action item on the agenda for the Dec. 16 school board meeting, at which the board might take an official position for or against the construction of the hospital.

The Placer Herald's ongoing coverage of the Northern California Behavioral Heath Hospital also includes:

  • an explanation of the project, words from its advocates and the petition against it, available here.
  • a story about conflicting information surrounding the Northern California Behavioral Health Hospital, available here.
  • the outcome of a community meeting hosted by UHS, available here.
  • a breakdown of the decision by Rocklin Unified School District's board of trustees not to support the project, coming soon.