“It really will transform the lives of thousands of visitors,” Jackson said.
With a growing number of people reaching out for addiction recovery services, Columbia River Mental Health Services, which offers behavioral health and recovery services in Southwest Washington, needed to expand.
Clark County is categorized as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“Our proximity to the Portland metro area and access to two major highways, I-5 and Highway 14, makes Clark County a drug trafficker’s dream,” said Kelly Ferguson, COO of Columbia River Mental Health Services.
The number of fatal overdoses has risen amid a growing fentanyl crisis, according to a Washington State Department of Health dashboard. Fatal overdoses in Clark County increased from 66 in 2019 to 117 in 2021 — a 77 percent jump.
With the opening of NorthStar Clinic, Columbia River Mental Health Services will be able to serve at least 182 additional patients per year, expanding its capacity by 33 percent, according to Ferguson.
Columbia River Mental Health Services’ Jasmine Tolbert said people are “going to feel the warmth while they walk through the building.” The entrance has soft lighting from ring lights, an electric fireplace and pictures of the ocean and flowers on the walls.
“They’re going to feel that, ‘I can be successful’ and that, ‘I can work on myself when I walk into this space,’ ” Tolbert said.
When people come into the clinic, they’ll get set up with a medical provider if they’re interested in using medication — Food and Drug Administration-approved medications including methadone and naloxone — to help relieve addiction symptoms.
The clinic will help uninsured people find coverage or work with other organizations to help pay for their treatment.
A councilor will work with the patient to set up a treatment plan that can include counseling, medication and case management. The clinic can refer patients, who are sometimes homeless or housing insecure, to food, housing and employment services.
“It’s really important for us to connect our patients with other services so we’re not just addressing the symptom, but we’re addressing the root cause of why they’re having those issues,” Jackson said.
Columbia River Mental Health Services purchased the former Elmer’s in May, with the help of a $2.5 million bipartisan capital expenditure from the state.
“Mental health and substance use tragically doesn’t declare a party,” said Columbia River Mental Health Services board member and state Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, while standing between state Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, and state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver.
“It has impacted all of us. It definitely has impacted me and my family,” Harris said. “So I’m just so thankful that we all agreed that this would be a great expenditure of your money.”
The pathway to the clinic’s opening had its obstacles. Neighbors have complained about the facility, expressing safety concerns, although the clinic will have security guards and cameras.
“Respectfully, I totally understand their reservations,” Tolbert said. “But I really hope they can move past that so they can contribute to helping our entire community.”
Jackson said he hopes to have the clinic open within the next couple of weeks.
Michelle Howell, the board’s president, said the opening will mark a turning point for addiction recovery in Southwest Washington.
“This is very close to my heart,” Howell said. “I lost a brother to drug addiction, and so anyone we can save — and I’ve heard the success stories of some of our patients — it just gives me hope. It gives me hope.”
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.