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Residents in a rage

Tempers flare at meeting for Rocklin psych hospital

Vocal residents skeptical of developer, hostile toward proposal
By: Andrew Westrope,
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First there were meetings, then a petition, then letters to the editor and public comments to Rocklin City Council.

Last week the controversy over a proposed psychiatric hospital in Rocklin moved to a community meeting in Lincoln.

Less than 40 people went to Twelve Bridges Middle School the evening of Dec. 8 for the first of two community meetings organized by Universal Health Services, the project applicant. Many of them appeared furious when they realized the purpose of the meeting was not to give them a say in the proposal, but to answer their questions and concerns about it.

A petition to stop the hospital from being built has collected signatures from more than 1,500 people in two months, but UHS, having asked the city for a two-month extension, still plans to submit its proposal Jan. 19 for formal approval by the Rocklin Planning Commission.

Northern California Behavioral Health Hospital, as it’s called, would be a new 102-bed facility on West Ranch View Drive near University Avenue and Whitney High School. Some neighborhood residents worry that its patients could be a danger to students, and that the hospital will diminish neighborhood property values. Critics have also accused UHS of releasing conflicting information, and the city of fast-tracking the project without doing its due diligence.

In fact, the city staff's environmental impact report is complete, but Rocklin Police Department is in the middle of fact-finding for its own safety report, to be given to the Rocklin Planning Commission alongside UHS’ own paperwork. Rocklin Unified School District has also hired a law firm to conduct an investigation and advise the school board on whether or not to support the hospital. The board was scheduled to receive that report, and possibly take a formal stance, on Wednesday after press time.

The community meeting in Lincoln last week was a “lively” affair, in the words of a moderator from UHS – audience hostility, in the form of constant interruptions, scoffs and raised voices, was palpable.

One Rocklin resident, a mother of four, spoke up to say she will not allow her kids to ride their bikes through Whitney Ranch if the hospital is built.

“Had I known, I would not have bought my house here. I would have moved to some other side of Rocklin or up in the gated community,” she said. “I have a daughter who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. I get it. But what’s also important to me is all my other kids, and their safety, to be able to go to (nearby) parks and be able to play safely, not to be going into lockdown any more than they are in our public schools, because someone might escape.”

Other critics echoed these sentiments, reiterating fears for their children’s safety, although UHS officials were adamant they will not accept criminally insane patients.

Senior Vice President Bob Deney of UHS’ Behavioral Healthcare Division said if UHS had known better, it would have held the meeting last year to address these misconceptions.

“In 30 years of doing this, I’ve never known a patient to leave one of our hospitals and go to a school, or actually hurt anyone,” he said. “The last facility that we built in Phoenix, Arizona, which opened one year ago this month, is closer to a high school than this one is. The reason that this wasn’t taken into consideration, to be very frank with you, is we didn’t think it was a consideration. We have never had a problem with any patient leaving a psychiatric hospital and going to a school and causing any disruption.”

Critics in the audience continued to ask for statistics on how many patients would be homeless (1-2 percent, according to Shawn Silva, CEO of UHS’ comparable Heritage Oaks Hospital in Sacramento), how many are likely to be involuntarily committed (94 percent, according to Silva), how many are likely to be a danger to others (2 percent, according to Silva), and how many leave against medical advice (less than 20 percent, according to Deney).

With that information, many residents in the audience still insisted UHS build the hospital elsewhere.

Rob Minor, vice president of behavioral health development for UHS, said the company looked at about 30 other sites in Placer County and settled on the one in Rocklin for various practical and financial reasons, though it was not purely the cheapest or the simplest site to develop.

“We typically don’t put the hospitals out in what I would call the boondocks, because that’s another stigmatization of the patients, that they’re not a part of the community,” he said. “And (we want) access to the facility by their family members.”

Proponents of the hospital said it would address a great need in Placer County, and its proximity to Whitney High School would be an advantage for students who need mental health care.

A second community meeting was scheduled for Tuesday night, Dec. 15 at the Rocklin Event Center, after press time.

The Placer Herald's ongoing coverage of the Northern California Behavioral Health 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.
  • comments from Police Chief Ron Lawrence and Rocklin schools Superintendent Roger Stock regarding the proposed hospital, available here.
  • a breakdown of the decision by Rocklin Unified School District's board of trustees not to support the project, coming soon.