Archive » September 13, 2012
Supes support plan for facility
By Jeremy Foster, Staff Writer
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday enthusiastically supported a partnership plan with Marian Regional Medical Center to consolidate mental health treatment services in the North County.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino brought the proposal to the board after meeting with Marian officials and county staff to discuss a public-private partnership to operate a new psychiatric center at 505 E. Plaza Drive, the former location of Marian West and Marian Urgent Care.
The board gave unanimous approval to spend $15,500 for contractor Health Management Associates to study the financial feasibility of what supervisors, mental health advocates, and Sheriff Bill Brown consider a desperately needed answer to both a mental-health crisis and a public safety problem. A report is due in October.
The proposal would study the creation of housing a crisis response unit, potentially administered by a third-party vendor; substance abuse and treatment programs; a geriatric psychiatric unit; relocating the Crisis and Recovery Emergency Services; and the use of Marian’s licensing to facilitate a provision of services.
“During this economic downturn, I think there are times when we feel handcuffed,” Lavagnino said. “We know what should be done, but there are inadequate resources to deal with many problems we face: one is the acute lack of psychiatric beds in our county. This creates a myriad of other social problems.”
The county currently operates a 16-bed psychiatric health center for adults with acute conditions, and has 12 residential beds for people in crisis. Because of a growing need for beds, the county this year is paying $1.2 million to use five psychiatric beds at a facility in Ventura.
“Mental illness is a non-discriminating predator,” Lavagnino added. “It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, young or old, rich or poor – any of us, any member of our family, can become a victim. This is an opportunity I believe we cannot let pass.”
For most mentally ill people in the North County, their first stop is the emergency room, where physicians are not trained or equipped to deal with the problem, he said.
Calling the county jail “the de facto mental illness facility” in Santa Barbara County, Sheriff Brown urged the board to move ahead with the plan. At any given time, a third of the jail population is suffering from some form of mental illness, and 17% are on psychotropic drugs.
“Sixteen beds in our population facility are simply not adequate,” Brown said. “This plan would double our number, and that is really a minimum of where we should be. The jail is not a good environment for the severely mentally ill.”
The proposed center could service both inpatient and outpatient needs and create a blueprint for other areas. First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said he hoped the proposal would expand opportunities for more psychiatric beds countywide. He said he hoped Cottage Hospital would step up to the plate, but if that didn’t happen, “I invite Marion to the South Coast to see if there’s a real need.”
Public speakers representing mental health advocate, hospital doctors and staff all urged the board to seize the opportunity.
“These are very stressful times and the need for our community is growing,” said Suzanne Riordan, executive director of Families ACT!. “Many housing and service providers have called 911 in a tremendous crisis and received no opportunity for a member of the family to be hospitalized. The revolving door will never stop unless we address this problem.”
Deputy public defender Deedrea Edgar said she was “completely in awe” of Lavagnino and Sheriff Brown’s effort to answer those in the community who have “written, spoken, protested, cried and suffered about for years.”
“Because of budget cuts, and what this county had endured, people are suffering daily in our courts, languishing in our jails, out on the streets with our public, and in homes, families are desperate,” she added. “It’s imperative that we do this.” email@example.com