With a dearth of places for people in mental health crisis to turn to in Santa Barbara County, local officials are exploring a new option that could provide much-needed psychiatric beds in partnership with a North County hospital.
In August, Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino met with Marian Regional Medical Center officials and county staff to discuss the possibility of operating a new psychiatric facility in one of the hospital’s older buildings in Santa Maria.
That concept will be discussed briefly at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, at which supervisors will decide whether to study the idea’s financial feasibility.
Currently, those in mental health crisis in the Santa Maria area must be transported by ambulance to the county’s only psychiatric hospital — more than 60 miles away. The Psychiatric Health Facility, at 315 Camino del Remedio in Santa Barbara, is the only locked facility where people can go if they are a danger to themselves or others.
That facility only has 16 beds, however, and county officials acknowledge the number is woefully inadequate for a county population of more than 425,000. The county also has contracted for five beds at a Ventura County facility — at a cost of $1.2 million for the next year.
Mental health advocates have long complained about the lack of beds in the county, but how many are enough is up for debate. What is clear, Lavagnino said, is the need for more.
“We are not properly treating our most needy under the current system,” he said. “Right now our emergency rooms and County Jail are full of patients who need care in a dedicated mental health facility. The situation isn’t fair to the patient, the doctors or our correctional staff, and it’s the Board’s responsibility to look at alternative solutions.”
County staff reports say a minimum of 30 acute beds are needed.
It’s not clear how many additional beds and what services the possible partnership would provide, but Lavagnino is hopeful that after Tuesday “the county can move forward with seriously exploring all options alongside Marian Medical Center.”
The tentative proposal has the old hospital facility at 505 E. Plaza Drive housing a North County psychiatric health facility, which would be operated by the county. A crisis response unit would also be a component, and could potentially be operated by a third party. Substance abuse and treatment programs, a geriatric psychiatric unit and the Crisis and Recovery Emergency Services, or CARES, outreach and residential facility could also be relocated there.
Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors contracted with a private company, Health Management Associates, to conduct an audit of the Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services and its programs; that report is due in October. The new Marian Regional Medical Center proposal wasn’t on the table at that time, however, and review must be expanded to evaluate such a partnership.
Supervisors will be asked Tuesday to pay an additional $15,500 to evaluate the new proposal,
Tuesday’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the Board Hearing Room on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.