by Jack Mayne
An organization that treats people suffering from chronic mental illnesses moving into Normandy Park has sparked a community furor that the managing partner of the company says is based on a “fear of the unknown” and a lack of understanding about people with mental problems.
The local battle in the community was made widely public last Sunday when Seattle Times investigative reporter Christine Willmsen published a long and detailed story on the controversy (see the full story here).
On Tuesday, a Facebook Page created by Normandy Park opponents of Hanbleceya company plans, said someone used “chalk to mark where the houses were that are to house patients of the Hanbleceya clinic.” A company executive decried pointing out the actual homes and said it would cause fear amongst its patients.
The Facebook page said that “it is not our interest to harm in any way the patients that live in the homes, but instead to let residents know that unregulated Hanbleceya homes are close to Marvista Park and Elementary (school) while being intentionally unspecific. We are passionate about public safety and concern for the well being of both patients and residents.
“Unfortunately some were turned off by the message and NPC (Normandy Park Cares) will not be using that method again. NPC is passionate about the safety and well being of everyone in the community and we will strive to be an important voice for all concerned. Your continued support has been overwhelming and greatly appreciated.”
Hanbleceya is staying
Kerry Paulson, managing partner of Hanbleceya Treatment Center, founded in 1979 and based in San Diego, said “we do plan to continue operations in Normandy Park,” and to potentially expand to Burien and Des Moines.
Charges his company is not regulated by the Washington State Department of Health are not true, Paulson said in e-mail responses to our questions. Read the full text of our questions and Paulson’s responses here.
Paulson said Hanbleceya is “really hoping to get the opposition groups within the city involved in mutually building a community agreement.”
“The objections from the community are understandable given the lack of information about mental illness and consequently, the perceived threat that arises from that misinformation. There is a fear of the unknown about how the community members’ lives might be affected living amongst mentally ill people.
“For our clients, this means that their recovery is greatly contingent upon both the structure and health of the therapeutic community within Hanbleceya (consisting of staff and clients), but also the opportunity to integrate into the community at large. For that reason, we are thankful and very much looking forward to working together with the Normandy Park community in the future.”
Disagree with ruling
Normandy Park resident Mike Bishoff agrees with Paulson that the clinical activities of the company are regulated by the state, but said the problem is the non-regulation of five neighborhood homes for Hanbleceya patients the company has bought or rented. That, he says, is the nub of local resident’s concern, causing him and others to form an organization, Normandy Park Cares, to fight Hanbleceya.
“Our direction at this point is all about regulation,” Bishoff said. “We think that is the key to success for the city of Normandy Park and the residents – and the patients. Our concern is not with Hanbleceya itself, it is how do we manage a reasonable expectation for residents and patients living in very close proximity to each other.
“We believe that the Department of Social and Health Services regulation on these homes as residential treatment facilities is the right thing to do. That will give oversight regulation from the state to make sure that the patients are properly taken care of and we think it will give assurance to the residents that all of the concerns they might have are being addressed.”
The state health agency has said it has conducted an investigation and determined it did not have jurisdiction.
“We think that they are just wrong,” said Bishoff. “We believe that according to the existing WAC (Washington Administrative Code) these homes are residential treatment facilities and that they need to be regulated by the Department of Health. It is already there, it is already written down.”
Bishoff said Hanbleceya is “skirting that fact, and this is intentional.”
“They are saying that all their treatment is happening up at the clinic and the homes are just rentals that are offered to their patients,” Bishoff said. “We believe, and rightly so, that the homes are actually part of the program – that the living arrangements are part of the way they try to make improvements in the way these people lived day in and day out. It is not just group talk up at the clinic but it is actually living in proximity with other people in a neighborhood.
“One person, on their own, kind of manages themselves,” Bishoff said. “But then you throw three or four or five struggling people all in a room together without being routinely or aggressively supervised,” there can be problems.
Bishoff said one local resident tried to get to know the occupants of one of the homes but finally moved out of her house she had lived in for nine years in frustration.
Bishoff said it could be hard to know who the people are that are living in a treatment home because when Hanbleceya people have problems, “they move them.”
“When they keep moving people around, the neighbors can’t really get to know anybody,” he said. “You see this traffic coming in and out. You don’t know who really is supposed to be there. You don’t know who is staff and . . . who the patients are.
“It puts everybody in a very defensive position. How do you assimilate into a neighborhood if there is nothing to assimilate?”
“That is a big problem for the neighborhood.”
Could have done better
Paulson said Hanbleceya could have better communicated with the Normandy Park residents when they purchased three houses and rented two more.
“On advice of counsel we do not disclose the location of client housing which puts us in a precarious position,” he said. “Initially, we bought the houses and put staff from San Diego who were moving into the Seattle area into those houses. Once we started getting clients, the clients moved in and the staff procured their own housing in other areas of the city then moved out.
“It’s also important to understand that federal privacy laws protect our clients and we have to be constantly aware of their right to confidentiality.”
Paulson said that is why clients were not specifically identified to the community’s residents. “It would be against the law.”
He said the Normandy Park Cares Facebook page is “a very sad reality.”
“Some of our clients will read those pages and no doubt feel scared about the amount of attention and focus being placed on a part of their medical reality. Many of these clients have delusions and paranoia about being followed, monitored, and intruded upon in some way.
“Creating Facebook pages and writing messages on sidewalks with arrows pointing to their house saying, ‘mentally ill people live there is essentially providing proof that their delusions about persecution are real,” he said.
“Writing endless blogs online and scribing messages in chalk on the sidewalk in front of the houses of these clients is essentially the same thing as acting like the parent jumping out from under the bed,” Paulson said. “No-matter the motivation behind the action, the result is that of terror and confusion for the person that struggles with keeping clear in their mind the difference between reality and fantasy.”
Paulson said freedom of speech is sacred, but “with every word said, printed or immortalized online, there is a person that is affected. It is easy to get into a ‘mob’ mentality with online posts (when) there is no face-to-face interaction.”
“Who is monitoring these sites to verify that what is said is even accurate? Fear breeds more fear rather than less. Rather than be scared of these people, there is something inspiring about that fact that most people would likely benefit from being around them a bit more often.”