As many as 26 new lockdown psychiatric beds are on the drawing boards for North County’s Marian Regional Medical Center. Spokesperson Kathy Sullivan confirmed that Marian is working in partnership with the County of Santa Barbara to revamp Santa Maria’s former Valley Hospital, purchased by Marina in the early 2000s and now used largely for offices, into a behavioral wellness complex. Sullivan noted that finished plans and designs have not yet been submitted to state medical regulators for review. At the soonest, she said, it would be at least two years before the new facility could open its doors. Even so, the prospect of so many new mental health beds ranks as big news.
Santa Barbara County has suffered a dramatic shortage of acute care beds for decades now, eliciting numerous grand jury reports. Currently, Santa Barbara County has only 16 lockdown psychiatric beds, which theoretically are allotted to those so mentally ill they pose a threat to themselves or others. Based on formulations by mental health professionals, a county Santa Barbara’s size should have between 40 and 60 such beds.
Making matters worse, the county’s limited number of beds are often occupied by patients facing misdemeanor criminal prosecution and deemed unfit to stand trial. As a result, mental health administrators find themselves increasingly forced to transport Santa Barbara’s mentally ill to out-of-county facilities. The volume of such referrals has been a chronic budget buster. This year, the Department of Behavioral Wellness is already $5 million over budget because of the issue.
Also on the drawing boards for the same Santa Maria mental health complex — though considerably further down the road — are plans for a 40-bed Institute for Mental Disease (IMD). IMDs are long-term care facilities for those with chronic and debilitating mental challenges. Santa Barbara has never had such a facility and the provision of 40 IMD beds would likewise fill a major gap in services.