Santa Barbara has a woefully small number of beds for people in mental health crisis. The county has 16 spaces in its Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF) in Goleta and contracts another five in Ventura. Everyone agrees this is not enough for the area’s 300,000 adults, who should have access to an absolute minimum 30 beds. Instead of receiving treatment, people with mental illness often find themselves suffering in the courts and languishing in jail, when what they really need is a doctor. But a lack of financing, as well as a lack of real estate, has left the county in a bind for years. So when 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino heard from Marian Regional Medical Center officials in Santa Maria that they might be interested in a collaboration, his ears perked up. “This is an opportunity I believe we cannot let pass,” he said.
The opportunity is a proposal for a consolidated mental health treatment center that could include a North County PHF, an associated crisis response unit, a geriatric-psychiatric unit, substance abuse and treatment programs, and relocation of the county CARES facility. The proposed facility to house all of this is a closed Marian hospital facility in Santa Maria currently sitting vacant. Marian officials hope to hear by the end of next month whether the county plans on participating. In the meantime, the county — which already has consultants examining the mental health systems delivery model — will add the benefits and risks of the opportunity to the list of items the consultants will examine.
Deputy Public Defender Deedrea Edgar applauded the idea. She would know better than many about the impacts of mental illness — she just represented David Attias, who in 2001 drove his car into several people on a busy Isla Vista road, killing four and seriously injuring another. He was convicted of murder but declared legally insane by a jury, and he has spent the last decade at Patton State Hospital. “This needs to be improved,” she said of the county’s situation. “The way to protect the public is to treat the public.”