After a lengthy and contentious public hearing, the Clovis Planning Commission postponed making a decision on a 102-bed behavioral health hospital that is promised to reduce the dearth of beds available in the Fresno area.
Universal Health Services, which operates 240 acute, behavioral and surgical centers, is proposing a 55,000-square-foot facility in a Clovis industrial park northwest of Highway 168 and Clovis Avenue.
The Clovis City Council chambers were filled Thursday night with residents eager to express support for or opposition to the hospital project during the planning commission meeting. After hours of comments from the public, company officials and the planning commissioners, the commissioners indicated they support the project but decided to put off any decision until next Thursday so the company can provide requested revisions.
One condition requested by Commission Chairman Vong Mouanoutoua is for the facility to separate adult and juvenile patients.
Attorney Randall Gray, 64, of Clovis said he lives 200 yards from the planned facility. Gray was one of 125 property owners who received a letter informing residents of a Sept. 8 meeting to get to know the company.
On Thursday, Gray said he came to the planning commission meeting to let the commission know there is opposition to the project. Gray said he fears that a mental health facility in the neighborhood would have a negative impact on children.
Gray said he is not opposed to a mental health facility, but opposes putting one in a residential area.
Amanda Dinscore, associate dean of the library at Fresno State, said she doesn’t trust Universal Health Services.
Dinscore, whose children attend kindergarten and third grade at Century Elementary School, said she is unhappy that the facility would be close to the school.
In addition, Dry Creek Park is just north of the proposed facility, and Dinscore said she was concerned the facility could bring crime to the area.
Sharon Rossi, 67, a retired business owner from Clovis, said she recently learned the company had a project rejected in Rocklin in the Sacramento area.
When Mouanoutoua asked about the Rocklin case, a Universal Health Services attorney said the company had withdrawn the deal and that it had not been rejected.
Around a dozen supporters spoke about the need for such a facility. Candice Wagenleitner, program manager for Break the Silence, said there is a need for a larger mental health facility in the area.
Wagenleitner, who has six children ages 6 through 19, has a mental illness. She said she had to be brave to speak at the meeting when there was so much opposition. But she did so because she wanted those who oppose the project to know that they need not fear mental health patients.
The $40 million project would create 200 jobs, including many high-paying clinicians, nurses and psychologists, said Dirk Poeschel, who represents the company.
He said the hospital will accept adult and adolescent patients with mental health needs from Kaiser, Saint Agnes Medical Center, Community Medical Centers and other hospitals.
Poeschel said the hospital will fill a significant need since the Fresno area only has about 20 percent of the mental health beds it needs. He said families of those with mental illness often need to travel long distances to find a bed for their mentally ill loved ones, spend money on hotel stays and miss work.
The average hospital stay in the Clovis facility will be three to nine days, he said.
Number of beds in behavioral health hospital in Clovis
Dawan Utecht, Fresno County’s behavioral health director, said the county supports more beds for the mentally ill. She said she is not sure how the county will use the facility when it opens.
She said the Fresno area needs adult beds more than adolescent beds.
The city conducted a neighborhood meeting last week at which about 80 residents showed up, and the majority opposed the hospital because of the potential for patients to escape. Opponents said they recognized the need for the hospital, but want it elsewhere.
The neighborhood meeting led to a change in a condition that had allowed car services to pick up patients. Clovis police instead recommended that the hospital ensure safe transportation of patients to their destinations.
The hospital will have two perimeter walls, including a 12-foot “non-climb fence,” Poeschel said.
The nearest homes are the Cottonwood Apartments to the east. To get to the nearest single-family homes requires scaling the non-climb fence, going through the creek and over a masonry wall that surrounds the gated neighborhood south and east of Minnewawa and Alluvial avenues.
The hospital will take two years to build and must be permitted by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.