Judge OKs Mental Unit of 14 Beds Near Centinela Center

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Superior Court has granted Didi Hirsch Psychiatric Services the go-ahead to build a 14-bed psychiatric treatment facility in Inglewood across the street from Centinela Hospital Medical Center, which had attempted to block the facility.

In a ruling last week Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kurt J. Lewin criticized the hospital, saying it showed an irrational fear of the mentally ill by trying to move the residential facility out of its back yard.

A spokesman for Didi Hirsch said construction will begin as soon as possible, but an appeal was promised by Centinela Hospital, one of Inglewood's largest employers and most politically powerful institutions.

"It's satisfying that the white hats win sometimes," said Dr. Ellen Brand, executive director of Didi Hirsch. "This is a not-in-my-back-yard syndrome. I can understand that in citizens who are not educated about mental illness. For a major health-care facility to so stigmatize the mentally ill is unconscionable."

The city of Inglewood had supported Didi Hirsch, saying state law prohibited discrimination against mental health facilities.

City Atty. Howard Rosten said he is happy the dispute is behind him. "We never thought it had any merit," he said.

The hospital fought to stop Didi Hirsch, which runs several such facilities, from opening the in-patient treatment center at 1011 Myrtle Ave. in a residential area across from the Centinela medical complex. The site is zoned for medical use.

Last December, the city's Planning and Development Commission granted the clinic a special-use permit to build a crisis residential treatment facility, which would offer up to two weeks of treatment for mental patients.

Centinela filed an appeal, however, and asked the City Council to revoke the permit, charging that patients at the unlocked residence would pose a danger to its clients, staff and neighbors. Centinela President Russell Stromberg had compared the situation to "putting a match stick next to a can of gasoline."

The council unanimously approved the facility in February, saying that state law prohibits discrimination against the mentally ill in the approval of health-care facilities in areas zoned for medical uses. Centinela quickly filed suit.

"What you have here is two different types of facilities and the interaction could be detrimental to the public," said Eric Tuckman, the hospital's vice president and legal counsel. "Maybe in another location the facility will live happily ever after."

Tuckman said Centinela does not oppose the psychiatric center in general and has been active in assisting Didi Hirsch in finding an alternative site.

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