South Lake Tahoe seniors are getting back full use of their senior center, with El Dorado County taking steps to move its mental health department operations out of the building.
The move follows two years of friction between the two groups and can’t come soon enough for some people.
“It took them three days to move in and it’s taken them two years to move out,” said Francine Garcia, a member of the South Lake Tahoe Senior Center and one of its past presidents.
El Dorado County anticipates moving its wellness center for mental health patients out of several rooms in the west wing of the senior center building on Lake Tahoe Boulevard within a few more weeks.
The mental health department moved some of its operations into the senior center in an effort to share and reduce costs for both groups. That January 2012 agreement was reached by former city and county employees but never approved by South Lake Tahoe City Council. It has been a point of contention ever since.
“It is very unfortunate this happened in this manner and that both of these populations ended up with less than they deserve,” South Lake Tahoe councilwoman JoAnn Conner said. “The sooner we can get them to places where they both get the sense of security and help they deserve, the better.”
The mental health wellness center will move temporarily into a trailer the county is buying for about $15,000. The trailer will be set up near other mental health offices at the County Government Center on Johnson Boulevard and offer patients about the same amount of space.
“It’s going to be shipped on March 14, so we hope to have it operational that week or within a week,” said Russ Fackrell, facilities manager for El Dorado County.
The county also plans to lease a building at 1900 Lake Tahoe Boulevard, at the corner of Tata Lane. A 10-year, $1.347 million lease with William P. Floyd Family Limited Partnership is on the board of supervisors’ agenda for approval Tuesday.
Following an estimated six months of repairs to the 7,444-square-foot building, mental health and all of its offices and ancillary programs including the wellness center would move in.
The building has housed both city offices and the county’s mental health department in the past.
“We went through many things to try to separate the two populations as best as we could (at the senior center) but it wasn’t successful and caused a lot of consternation with the seniors there and stigmatized the client population in need of these mental health services. So the county is moving the wellness center to a temporary location until we get a more permanent structure,” El Dorado County District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago said.
In April 2013, the South Lake Tahoe City Council voted to invalidate the never-approved agreement with the county, giving the county until that June to move its mental health operations out of the senior center.
“It’s taken us six months to get to this point for a more permanent facility,” Santiago said. “The agreement has yet to be finalized, but everything seems to be lined up well.”
South Lake Tahoe officials this week shared news of the county’s upcoming move with members of the South Lake Tahoe Senior Center board of directors.
“When mental health came in, it didn’t work out well. You’ve all been through a difficult time. I apologized to you some time ago and will again,” City Manager Nancy Kerry told the board.
The city is offering to help the senior center make some fast-track repairs and facility improvements to get things back in order after the mental health department moves out and then organize a grand reopening.
Membership at the South Lake Tahoe Senior Center has dropped by about 100 people to 255 members over the last two years. Some members attribute that to the mental health department moving in, and problems that arose with the two groups sharing a roof. The goal is to get those members back.
“The most important thing is to take your building back and we want to help you do that,” Kerry told the senior center board. “We’ll put a team on this. We’ll come in right behind (the county moving out) and do everything we can. You can help us. Then we’ll put together a party or an open house.”