The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and members of the public voiced overwhelming support Tuesday for a partnership that could result in more treatment space for people in mental-health crisis.
Last month, 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.
The supervisors expressed interest in the partnership this week, and gave the OK to study the financial feasibility of the move.
Marian recently opened a new hospital in Santa Maria, and the 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.
Only 16 beds are currently available in Santa Barbara County for people in mental-health crisis, a number county officials and mental advocates have called woefully inadequate.
“This lack of bed space creates a myriad of other social problems,” Lavagnino said Tuesday. “This is an opportunity I believe we cannot let pass.”
Sheriff Bill Brown also spoke Tuesday, echoing the persistent message that the jail has been the county’s de facto mental institution.
At any given time, he said, a third of the jail’s inmates are suffering from some kind of mental illness.
“It’s a safety problem for inmates and staff,” he said, adding that the partnership was a novel one.
Public comment brought out hospital doctors and staff, as well as mental-health advocates, all of whom supported the move and urged the county to seize the opportunity.
More details will be fleshed out later this year, when a private company, Health Management Associates, returns with an audit of the Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services as well as the new partnership with Marian.
That report is due in October.