The good news: Santa Barbara County’s department of Behavioral Wellness expects to need only seven in-patient psychiatric beds per day from the Aurora Vista del Mar psychiatric hospital in Ventura County. That’s down from the current 11. The bad news: Even with this reduction, mental-health administrators expect they will need $1.2 million more than their projected budget for the coming year allows — $2.2 million — to send Santa Barbara’s acutely mentally ill to out-of-county facilities. Whether any of these expectations are realistic has yet to be seen.
This current year, for example, Behavioral Wellness had to ask for $2 million on top of the $2 million it was budgeted for out-of-county hospitalizations because the demand was so intense. Nevertheless, administrators are hoping out-of-county in-patient demand will be significantly reduced because the department has opened — or is in the process of opening — three new psychiatric extended-stay, in-county “homes” with a total of 24 beds. In addition, the county recently opened a Crisis Stabilization Unit with eight recliner chairs — offering 23 hours of decompression and cool-down space — for people on the verge of psychiatric meltdowns. It’s worth noting the last time Santa Barbara shipped only seven psychiatric patients to Vista del Mar a day was in 2001.
Meanwhile, the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors just unanimously approved plans to construct a 91-bed private psychiatric hospital, despite significant neighborhood opposition. The project will be one of the few private facilities going up anywhere and the first for Vizion Health LLC. When built, the new hospital — located 189 miles from Santa Barbara — will provide needed bed space for the seriously mentally ill on the South Coast.
Also this week, county Behavioral Wellness czar Alice Gleghorn won a national award for her work responding to opioid addiction with the San Francisco Department of Public Health. There, she launched pioneering drug-overdose-response programs and pushed to equip first responders with nasal-spray rescue kits. Gleghorn will be given only limited time to enjoy the Nyswander/Dole Award — also known as the “Marie” — given out annually by the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence. On May 10, she is scheduled to unveil the first draft for a Laura’s Law pilot program, something she resisted.
Laura’s Law — adopted by Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties — grants judges the authority to order service-resistant mentally ill persons into treatment. Though many area mental-health advocates enthusiastically support the program, it’s not without its controversy. Some critics say the results are more rhetorical than substantial and not worth the civil-liberty intrusions. Gleghorn has objected that starting a brand-new program will distract her from the more substantial reforms that multiple grand juries and two teams of consultants have concluded her department sorely needs.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated Laura’s Law would come up next week; the correct date is May 10.