On Monday, the county's mental health and substance treatment programs announced nothing short of a game-changer for residents who find themselves in mental health crisis.
Thanks to a grant from the California Health Facilities Financing Authority, $2.6 million was awarded to the Santa Barbara County Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services to expand crisis services.
Family members, mental health services consumers and law enforcement have all decried the county's lack of crisis services, which amount to 16 beds for involuntary patients at the county's psychiatric health facility, which are frequently full.
Other times, people in mental health crises will end up in local emergency rooms as they wait for a bed, while others are picked up by law enforcement and taken to jail.
The last options are not therapeutic for people with mental health issues, advocates have said, and the department announced Monday that the new funding will go toward facilities for those in crisis.
A new crisis stabilization unit, a new peer-supported crisis respite residential house in Santa Barbara as well as a mobile crisis support team based in Lompoc are all projects proposed.
The new grant will supplement $8.3 million in state funds awarded last January to support new crisis triage teams in each region of the county, the statement said.
"For the first time ever, we are positioned to put into place the resources necessary to meet the needs of persons experiencing mental health crises in Santa Barbara County,” said Dr. Takashi Wada, ADMHS interim director.
"What this really does is help us develop a robust a crisis system so we can really focus on crisis intervention," said Suzanne Grimmesey, MFT and ADMHS chief strategy officer. "We're thrilled."
The crisis stabilization unit is a sort of urgent care for mental health crises, Grimmesey said, adding that about a third of California counties have such a unit.
"We don't have one now," she said, with most people in mental health crisis ending up at the emergency room at Cottage Hospital, where they are held until a psychiatric bed opens up.
"This is a way to provide a short-term option," she said, adding that the funding is enough to accommodate eight patients for up to 23 hours. "If someone can discharge before that, then great, but we also recognize that not all stabilizations occur within in 23 hours."
The county was also awarded funding to set up a crisis residential respite house, where a person could stay for up to 30 days while they stabilize. The facility would be voluntary, and could potentially house six to eight beds.
Patients there would be able to receive therapy and services in a non-institutional setting, and a variety of recovery and support groups would be offered, she said.
Though a final location has not been decided on, "we've been looking," she said, adding that the facilities would ideally be on the same campus and located in downtown Santa Barbara.
The department found out it received the grant on Friday and notified the Board of Supervisors on Monday, she said. Supervisors will have to approve the funding, and the new grant may be mentioned at the supervisors' budget hearing on Tuesday.
Whether the crisis residential unit will take pressure off of the PHF, which is for involuntary patients, or serve a different population altogether, Grimmesey said it could be a bit of both.
The goal is to stabilize people early in the process and counties with crisis stabilization units have marked declines in ER usage, she said.
Emergency rooms are seldom a therapeutic environment for someone in mental health crisis, and Grimmesey said the crisis stabilization unit will be staffed by a full psychiatric team for patients.
The grant would also go toward creating a dedicated mobile crisis team in Lompoc, the only major service area without one, and would include a peer recovery assistant, mental health specialist and psychiatric nurse.