Finally. After many rumors, much back-room whispering by elected officials, and even more anticipation — Lompoc’s Champion Center opened its doors for a new mental health treatment center offering 80 new beds for those suffering serious mental health issues.
Of those 80 beds, 34 will be filled by clients of the County’s Department of Behavioral Wellness at a cost of $362 a night per bed. On the first day, two of those slots were filled. By the end of the week, 10 had been. On the convoluted chess board of mental-health services available in Santa Barbara County, this ranks as a major addition.
The facility is classified a Mental Health Rehabilitation Center (MHRC) which caters to patients deemed so gravely disabled that they’ve been placed in legal conservatorship holds. Translated, that means patients are not free to come and go and the facility is locked, though in this case, there are no security guards. Among the many deficiencies on the menu of mental-health options available in Santa Barbara County, the lack of a MHRC has long been among the most pressing.
In a previous interview, county’s mental health czar Alice Gleghorn stated, “For the past three years, this has been our number one priority.” Currently, Gleghorn’s department has more than 100 patients placed on such conservatorships. Statewide, there’s a shortage of MHRC beds and waiting lists are painfully long. Until now, county mental health professionals have sent such patients to facilities elsewhere throughout the state, imposing considerable hardship and expense on relatives of patients so dispatched. The Lompoc property — built in 1942 — has been contractually placed under the control of Crestwood Behavioral Health, one of the largest mental health providers in the state.
Crestwood — started in Sacramento in 1968 — reportedly has 24 such facilities with 1,800 beds. For several years, the mere possibility that such a deal might be possible was seen as a matter of such urgent delicacy that county supervisors dared only whisper about it and then only strictly off the record. That the property came available at all was due to a fluke of bad marketing and bad economics.
In 2014, a private company had taken control of the property — owned by the Lompoc Hospital district — in hopes of creating an upscale detox and substance abuse treatment clinic. The clinic was dubbed the Champion Center, on par with the Betty Ford clinic. For a host of complicated reasons, the financial performance of Champion proved underwhelming in the extreme, and the operation lost $3 million a year for each of its first three years. In 2017, the company pulled the plug and in the interim two years, the 68,000 square foot facility was grossly under-used, providing space for outpatient treatment and laundry services.
For the past ten years, Crestwood has been working in earnest to establish a toe-hold in Santa Barbara County. With last week’s opening, Crestwood patients — many with long-term problems — will now be able to receive a range of treatments for severe mental illness problems closer to home. Crestwood also includes job training in which patients are paid competitive wages to do such jobs such as gardener, receptionist, and peer support counselor. The thinking is that pay-check therapy instills not just spending money but a sense of pride and purpose.
This article was underwritten in part by the Mickey Flacks Journalism Fund for Social Justice, a proud, innovative supporter of local news. To make a contribution go to sbcan.org/journalism_fund. For other articles supported by the Flacks Fund, click here.