Lompoc Champion Center
The Lompoc Champion Center may gain a new tenant if a deal is reached for Crestwood Behavioral Health to lease the facility to provide mental health treatment. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A mental health treatment program that some people say is much needed in Santa Barbara County might open in the Lompoc Champion Center building, according to a proposal unveiled Wednesday night at a community meeting.

The Lompoc Valley Medical Center board of directors held the meeting to provide information about a proposal for California-based Crestwood Behavioral Health Inc. to operate a mental health rehabilitation center, or MHRC.

On Thursday, the board took a step forward by authorizing a nonbinding letter of intent to potentially enter into a lease with Crestwood for the Champion Center, adding two sections raised by community members the night before to address the presence of daily security officers at the site as well as a plan for parking mitigation policies, if needed.

“It is anticipated that the lease would be executed in mid- to late February 2020, and that Crestwood would likely begin operating its MHRC within eight months thereafter,” Steve Popkin, chief executive director for the hospital, said Friday morning.

About 50 people, many of them neighbors, attended the Wednesday meeting held at the hospital cafeteria. They expressed concerns about parking, trash and security after hearing a Crestwood representative speak about the proposal.

The Champion Center, the former Lompoc hospital building at 303 South C St., has remained mostly empty after the substance abuse treatment program ended in 2017.

“Since then, Lompoc Valley Medical Center has been seeking to determine and implement the highest and best use of the Champion Center building,” Popkin said.

The 80-bed facility has housed outpatient counseling and laundry services, but otherwise it has been empty for the past two years. 

“You all know far more than I do how incredibly beautiful and what a great gem you have in your community for services,” said Patrica Blum, executive vice president of Crestwood. “To have that … sit empty, it’s a heartbreak.”

She said the programs would provide a much-needed resource for the Central Coast.

“A county this size should have this level of care,” Blum said. “So people who are from Santa Barbara County and need this level of care currently go all over the state of California for these services. This would be truly a benefit to the community.” 

Crestwood seeks to offer the highest level of services — mental health rehabilitation for people dealing with depression, bipolar disease, schizoaffective issues and other psychiatric disorders.

The firm has envisioned using the same footprint as the previous program, which split the facility into a 34-bed unit, a 30-bed section and a 16-bed unit to treat patients needing various levels of care.  

Patricia Blum of Crestwood Behavioral Health

Patricia Blum, executive vice president for Crestwood Behavioral Health, talks about the program proposed for the Lompoc Champion Center during a meeting Wednesday night at the Lompoc Valley Medical Center. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Before arriving at the Lompoc facility, patients would be assessed through a county behavioral health program after being stabilized. The goal is to help them learn or relearn the skills for living independently, Blum said, adding that the average length of stay would be nine months.

“When people come into this program, they are here because the county has said they needed to have this level of care,” Blum said.

The facility would be locked with security cameras placed around the property, and clients would be supervised at all times, she added.

While patients would be sent to Crestwood on an involuntary basis, the center would be cautious about those with a record of violence.

Once ready to resume independent lives, the patients would be returned to the communities they came from and not released in Lompoc, she added.

The new program would bring at least 75 full-time permanent jobs to Lompoc — and likely more — ranging from clinicians, nurses, housekeepers, dietary staff and service coordinators, she said. 

While the previous substance abuse treatment program operated as an arm of Lompoc’s hospital district, the agency’s role would be different this time.

“Under this business model … we are the landlord and will be leasing the facility to Crestwood Behavioral Health. They would be responsible entirely for the operations, the profit-loss and all the financial aspects of the facility,” Popkin said. 

The company does not intend to hired security guards, a move that concerned some neighbors. As the landlord, the Lompoc Valley Medical Center board could include security guards as a requirement of the lease.

“The board of directors wants to hear your input, which you just provided, so that would be a point of discussion in their deliberations,” Popkin said. “I think probably everybody here would say, yeah we’d like to have some security around since we don’t even know who the clients are going to be, whether they are or are not sex offenders or whatever,” one man said. 

Near the end of the meeting Wednesday night, one man asked if it was a done deal.

“It’s not a done deal,” Popkin said. “This proposal will be considered seriously by the board of directors at its next meeting to see whether it wishes to enter into a letter of intent with Crestwood Behavioral Health.”

In authorizing a letter of intent with Crestwood on Thursday night, the board incorporated the concerns raised by neighbors the night before, Popkin said Friday.

Crestwood, an independent, Sacramento-based, accredited firm founded in 1968, offers 34 programs with more than 1,800 beds at 24 sites from Eureka to Chula Vista. The firm has 3,100 employees.

However, Crestwood isn’t new to Santa Barbara County. In May, Crestwood stepped up as a crisis residential service provider after the previous operator filed for bankruptcy, forcing the county to scramble to keep services in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria.

The Santa Barbara facility would involve 10 beds, and the contract calls for Crestwood to serve as a provider through June 2020, with a different firm handling the Santa Maria facility.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.