Notices taped to the door of Berkeley’s Mental Health Services Clinic which is temporarily closed due to a flea infestation. Photo: Paul Kealoha-Blake
Notices taped to the door of Berkeley’s Mental Health Services Clinic which is temporarily closed due to a flea infestation. Photo: Paul Kealoha-Blake

Due to a flea infestation which could not be eradicated, Berkeley’s adult Mental Health Clinic closed on June 27 , which has meant cutbacks on core services until a temporary solution is implemented, according to city officials.

Described by officials as an emergency, the closure of the clinic, at 2640 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, has meant, “a number of core services have been halted or severely curtailed for the past two weeks,” according to a memo from city manager Dee Williams-Ridley. Among the services affected are assessments and intakes, psychiatry appointments, and onsite case management services — the most critical of which is the Mental Health Division inability to accept drop-in patients, according to an expert.

“We typically assess over 20 people per month,” the memo reads. “It also means that each week 25-50 severely mentally ill people in Berkeley do not get the psychiatric treatment they need to remain safe and to support them functioning well as they navigate the city’s streets parks and public spaces. There are an additional 60+ clients who we are unable to serve in the field and therefore are not receiving the support they need to continue their recovery.”

A temporary mobile mental-health clinic is being offered in a van. Photo: Paul Kealoha-Blake

At the moment, mental-health services are being conducted from two “mobile stations” — at least one of which is a white van — as well as other locations scattered around the city. The van, which is located at the MLK clinic (and other spots), is meant to be a temporary solution, and in an emergency measure last Tuesday, the city council approved up to $500,000 to purchase a modular office that would be placed in the parking lot of the West Berkeley Senior’s Center. Doing will give the Mental Health Division the space to restore services, officials said, during the 18 and 24 months required to renovate the MLK clinic (plans to do so were underway prior to the flea infestation) and clear out the fleas. According to the city, the city had long planned to renovate the existing mental-health clinic into a modern facility, starting in December. However, the flea infestation created a short-term need. Moving to a short-term location allows staff to restore services sooner than waiting until December.

The most significant change to operations is that mental health services are now offered by appointment only, versus by drop-in that the health center provided, according to Paul Kealoha-Blake, a homeless advocate and Berkeley mental-health commissioner. 

“These services are critical in Berkeley and this sudden closure is important to the community,” he said. Kealoha-Blake added that even now mental health is underfunded and, as a result, “has impacted the community and the city at large.”

For their part, mental health workers are frustrated that there isn’t space to “do anything,” Paul Buddenhagen, director of the health and community service department, said to Berkeleyside. Though the staff sees patients by appointment, they are also making many more home visits — which is not an efficient use of staff time, he said.

As city officials meet daily to handle the emergency, clinic staff have also been working from other locations — such as the Berkeley Police substation on Folger Avenue to provide the “majority of services to clients in the field,” the memo says.

City spokesman Matthai Chakko told Berkeleyside that the city is working as quickly as it can to get the modular office up and running, and hopes to have services restored within two to three weeks.

Berkeley is one of the few cities in Alameda County that elects to run its own mental-health services division instead of relying on the county’s mental-health unit. That’s important Buddenhagen said, because mental health services are more effective when done at the local level.

This story was updated after publication with clarification about the renovation of the clinic.

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