Lots of unknowns in wake of fire at Butler County mental health center

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When Butler County United Way director Leslie Osche heard that a fire had caused major loss to a sister nonprofit, she immediately heralded a call for assistance that has produced results for — but not yet made whole — the Irene Stacy Community Mental Health Center.

Ms. Osche and her counterpart at the mental health center are crossing their fingers in the hopes that more assistance will be forthcoming to offset damages that are expected to mount to a million dollars.

“It’s been very difficult. We’re coping. We’re doing what we need to do. But, we could still use some help,” said Natalie Ross of the health center.

Early Feb. 19, a fire erupted at Butler County’s only nonprofit mental health facility, located on Hillview Drive in Butler Township, causing major damage to the administrative wing of the facility that serves more than 4,500 clients annually.

Among the extensive structural losses were the destruction of all the prescription medication stored in that wing as part of the facility’s mobile medicine distribution unit as well as children’s toys and books.

“We recognized immediately how critical the need was and what kind of impact this would have on the [mental health center] and the clients they serve. This was an emergency,” Ms. Osche said.

Ms. Ross said it was a huge shock when she got the call at 5:30 a.m. that day. When she arrived on scene, she saw the fire department trying to cut through the peaked roof of the one-story building. It appears that an electrical fire had started in a wall and had spread to the ceiling and the roof. The fire was ruled accidental. A total value loss has not yet been calculated, but Ms. Ross said she expects it to hit a million dollars.

Since Feb. 19, Ms. Ross has been putting out fires of the figurative variety. The community has been responding. Temporary space was offered; toys and children’s books were donated; and some financial donations have been made. A fundraising luncheon is being planned.

But Ms. Ross is worried about what lies ahead.

“We’ve got a wing of the building gutted and the architects are saying we really should get a new roof, even though we’ve got it patched now. The support beams are charred and they smell really bad,” she said. Meantime, the most pressing immediate issue besides temporary space — getting the prescription medications to the center’s clients — was dealt with, but it’s unclear how it will be paid for.

“We lost all of the medications that were stored. The packaging [for the meds] filled five large lawn-and-leaf garbage bags. We lost a lot,” she said, explaining that many of the centers clients are clients because they are unable to take their medications on their own without assistance from the center’s mobile-med department staff. “These are people who would be in state hospitals or at risk of going into a hospital because they don’t take their meds or they’re unable to take their meds on their own so we dispense them and work with them,” Ms. Ross said.

There’s confusion as to who is financially responsible for replacing those medications, the center or the clients. But, the clients couldn’t wait for the meds until the confusion was cleared so, working with the local Rite-Aid pharmacy, the prescriptions were filled and distributed and the details will be figured out later.

Meantime, a quarter of the building is unusable and the center’s 140 or so employees are “climbing over each other,” Ms. Ross said. “Space is a hot commodity at the moment,” she said wryly.

A secondary issue is whether other improvements should be made to the building, circa 1968, while contractors are on site to repair the damage caused by the fire and fighting the fire. “Things [in other areas of the building] aren’t up to current standards. I’m not sure whether we’ll be required to bring them up to standards or, even if it’s not required, maybe it makes sense to do that now while we’re getting the other work done,” she said.

Despite all the uncertainty and work that lie ahead, Ms. Ross said she’s grateful for the help she’s received; it’s allowed clients to be served withalmost no disruption in their care.

Meantime, a fundraising lunch is being prepared for May 13 at the Butler Country Club. More information can be obtained by calling 724-287-0791, ext. 2166. “We know there are going to be costs that are not covered by insurance. I’m expecting it’s going to be buckets and buckets of money,” she said.

Anyone interested in making a tax-deductible contribution can visit any Nextier Bank and direct their donation to the “Irene Stacy Fire Fund.” As of a week ago, some $8,700 had been donated.

The center’s clients are adults and children with problems that range from mental health and intellectual disabilities to substance abuse..

Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or at 724-772-9180.

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