The county’s Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services (ADMHS) has received an $8.3 million state grant that will pay for 23 new full-time employees — case workers, psychiatrists, and consumer and family peers — to work on crisis triage teams in Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and Lompoc. These 23 new employees — ADMHS currently staffs 281 employees to manage 7,600 clients with mental illness and 4,500 clients with substance-abuse issues — will serve two roles, said ADMHS chief strategy officer Suzanne Grimmesey.
First, the triage teams will work to connect patients with ADMHS resources to prevent mental-health crises from reaching emergency rooms or acute psychiatric hospitals, like the county’s Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF). Second, for patients coming out of treatment at the ER or the PHF unit, the employees will provide “a warm hand off,” Grimmesey said, such as making sure they go to their follow-up appointments and get their medications. Keeping clients out of the ER and the PHF will ultimately save money and reduce recidivism rates, Grimmesey said, noting that of the 635 clients admitted to inpatient acute-psychiatric hospitals through ADMHS in 2012-13, 114 were readmitted within a year and 56 were readmitted a second time.
Though they acknowledged the $8.3 million grant is much needed, some area mental-health advocates argue that what will really help to close the revolving door of admissions are step-down facilities for patients moving along the treatment ladder. Suzanne Riordan, executive director of Families ACT!, said her organization is in talks with the city Housing Authority and the county to create a residential treatment facility in each county district where patients could live for six to 18 months.
Grimmesey said the county has applied for a second grant. If awarded — the department will hear in March — ADMHS plans to put that money toward two South County centers: an eight-bed crisis stabilization unit (akin to a psychiatric urgent care center, where patients could stay up to 23 hours) and a six- to eight-bed crisis residential treatment facility where patients could stay up to 30 days.