Seven months after agreeing to move to a different location, the owners of a mental health facility are facing protests from a collection of local residents upset with the new location.
According to information provided by facility-owner Springstone, the facility, Saguaro Springs, would provide services for people with mental issues — depression and anxiety are specialties — and people with drug and alcohol dependency. The $14 million hospital would have 72 beds to house its patients, who spokesperson Rosemary Plorin wrote in an email stay for an average of seven days.
Springstone had initially planned to build the hospital near Greenfield and Baseline roads in Gilbert, but withdrew from that site in April after residents complained of its proximity to Pioneer Elementary School. Springstone announced a new Gilbert location for Saguaro Springs last August, but the new spot near Val Vista Drive and Williams Field Road, which is zoned for a mental health facility, has drawn additional protests and concerns from Gilbert residents who are worried about possible hazards tied to the facility’s patients.
In recent weeks, Springstone has addressed the issue with community members via a meeting — the most recent was held on Oct. 1 — and through the implementation of a temporary website, saguarospringshospital.com. An additional meeting for the town to review the landscaping, lighting and other zoning issues is scheduled for Oct. 10.
Part of the presentation to residents emphasized the economic benefits the hospital could bring to the community, as the company states the other hospitals it runs across the country create 150 jobs for the respective communities.
The protestors, however, counter by claiming the facility could actually hurt the surrounding area economically. That detrimental effect comes in the form of property values, as protestor and parent Andrea Palmer said having the facility located in the neighborhood could bring down the prices of the homes in the area.
“We already lost them once; we don’t want to lose them again,” fellow protestor Monica Dolenko said during an Oct. 3 Gilbert Town Council meeting.
Another selling point offered by Springstone is the need for a mental health hospital in a community with an aging population and without access to a facility of its kind.
But it’s the type of patients that have drawn the ire of protestors who say the site is too close to residential areas — Annecy Condos is across the street from the proposed site — shopping centers and schools, as well as a bus stop used by students.
“Our motto is it’s the right idea, but the wrong location,” Palmer said.
That refrain was repeated during the Oct. 3 meeting in which 11 community members spoke about the hospital to the assembled council members. They expressed fears ranging from potentially dangerous patients to an increase in crime in the neighborhood, in particular drug-related crimes.
“This is where acute treatment is given, that means they’re just reaching the most terrible time when they need help,” said speaker Amy Higgins.
Issues with the former stemmed from comparisons with Adam Lanza, the person who killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012.
Dolenko, who teaches social studies at Desert Ridge High School, added having the facility across the street from her home would make her less secure in her neighborhood.
“I shouldn’t be scared to be at home,” she said.
Springstone, however, says the hospital does not treat people who are “incarcerated or criminally committed patients” and only accepts non-voluntary patients who have attempted suicide or are considering suicide, and are incapable of making their own decision.
“There seems to be a persistent myth among a small number of residents that the hospital will be some kind of ‘institution’ where ‘transient’ patients will be transferred via court order to be ‘locked away’ for long periods of time. In fact, none of those details are accurate,” Plorin said.
An example of the misinformation came during the Oct. 3 meeting, when resident Susan Conrad said the police were not allowed to arrest a patient if he or she tried to leave the facility violently until that patient had left the building. In an email, Gilbert Police Department public information officer Sgt. Jesse Sanger said a patient could be arrested if he or she assaulted an employee while trying to leave and the employee wanted to press charges.
Per the presentation, patients in the facility are discharged following “evaluation, treatment and development” of a discharge plan, and patients who aren’t considered a danger to themselves and others would be allowed to leave with after obtaining a physician’s order.
The concerns offered by the protestors also encompass the safety of local students — objectors of the original site expressed similar sentiments — especially with Saguaro Springs’ proximity to a school bus stop. Plorin, though, said Springstone has worked with Gilbert Public Schools about moving the stop to a different location or within the Annecy community, which is gated.
The presentation Springstone outlined to Gilbert residents also included safety precautions the hospital would undertake, including security cameras, access control systems, and trained personnel. Not mentioned on the list is an onsite security guard, although having that presence wouldn’t be enough to assuage Palmer’s concerns.
“Even if it did, I would not feel safer,” she said.
Palmer and many of the speakers at the council meeting emphasized they weren’t opposed to having a facility in Gilbert; they said they wanted it somewhere else in town and away from the residential and commercial areas. Neither Palmer nor the protestors at the council meeting cited a specific location in Gilbert, and attempts to discuss alternative sites in Gilbert with a Springstone executive were unsuccessful.
Although the protestors were in the majority during the town council meeting, there were two residents who spoke in favor of the facility. One man took exemption to the comparisons to Sandy Hook, which he said stigmatizes issues related to mental health.
Fellow Gilbert resident Sarah Olinski, who said she has bipolar disorder, argued the dearth of alternative options in the East Valley would benefit residents in need of help. She also took umbrage with some of the sentiments expressed about the clientele by other speakers.
“This is not a prison; these people are not prisoners,” she said.
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