Often missing from the current discussion regarding the proposed Templeton Behavioral Health Hospital (BHH) are solid facts and a compassionate understanding of the serious behavioral health inpatient needs that individuals and families are struggling to cope with daily in San Luis Obispo County. Behavioral health issues continue to be stigmatized rather than recognized and treated like other health conditions, which can impair a person’s ability to function on a daily basis. The real focus of debate should be on the critical unmet mental health needs in the county and how we can all help to address them in an informed and caring way.
A California Hospital Association Study states that 50 inpatient hospital beds per 100,000 population is the minimum needed to seriously address current needs. SLO needs approximately 138 beds; the proposed hospital plans to have 91 beds. Last year, the county transported 350 patients to hospitals from Los Angeles to Santa Rosa. This has been happening for years because there is no private inpatient facility in the county for nonviolent patients who are in an acute crisis due to behavioral health issues, including depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, etc. These outside referrals do not include patient referrals by private health care professionals.
For many families and individuals, treatment is not an option if it involves traveling long distances outside the county due to logistical, financial, and work-related concerns. Families with children and adolescents suffer an added burden of trying to provide physical and emotional support to their loved ones who are separated from family, friends, and community while in an acute crisis condition.
Optimum treatment is also difficult to plan, coordinate, and communicate over long distances. Often patients require numerous hospitalizations before their condition can be successfully treated.
If an individual is in an emotional/mental crisis, then the best place for them and their community is in an acute care behavioral health hospital like the one proposed for Templeton, which will provide private short-term (up to 14 days) mental health care and treatment for children, adolescents, adults, seniors, and veterans. Patients will be referred by health-care professionals similar to a regular hospital. BHH will not be a forensic facility treating criminals; jails, state prisons, and state hospitals care for these patients.
People often express concerns about security at BHH. This new modern facility will be very secure for patients and the community. No one will be able to just walk out without a physician review or release. If a patient has been evaluated and found to be harmful to his or herself or others, then the individual cannot leave the hospital at will but will be picked up by the county and transported to the county’s holding facility. When a patient is discharged, they must be returned to their residence of origin where they will receive continued treatment by their mental health care professional or transferred to a long-term facility. The hospital will provide transportation for those without it.
The hospital will be located in Templeton in an area designated as the regional medical hub by the Templeton Community Design Plan and the county’s general plan. It is not located in a residential area. Across from Twin Cities Hospital is the logical location for this new state-of-the-art hospital. In this setting, patients can receive coordinated and integrated care for both physical and mental health needs. Well-meaning people often acknowledge the need for a hospital but oppose the location, i.e. not in my backyard. What if the people of Ventura, Santa Barbara, Sacramento, etc., said the same thing? Where would SLO County patients have been going for treatment over the years? Other people say “just make it smaller,” i.e., fewer beds, fewer patients. The truth is the county’s need is much greater (47 beds greater) than the proposed 91-bed hospital. The proposed size is similar to other behavioral health hospitals in the state, which allows them to be economically viable to build and operate. A new modern hospital will also have the added bonus of attracting more medical professionals and greater patient services.
Today, the leaders and decision makers in our county have an outstanding opportunity to take a major step in resolving the serious inpatient mental health care crisis in our county by approving this private behavioral health hospital in Templeton. This need has been well documented by the county’s departments and commissions and by a county report developed in conjunction with Transitions Mental Health Association, “Behavioral Health Integration Project,” in June 2015. The SLO County League of Women Voters, Transitions Mental Health Association, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of SLO County have all supported this particular project in Templeton.
The new hospital will not cost the county a dime, but it will generate hundreds of good jobs, much tax revenue, and, most importantly, it will relieve the county of the huge void in mental health care. The residents of this county are entitled to quality mental health care now; they have been waiting long enough.
Melanie Billig and her husband, Harvey, are the developers proposing the Templeton Behavioral Health Hospital. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.