Fewer Santa Barbara County residents are being transported to Ventura’s Vista del Mar psychiatric hospital on 5150 holds — meaning they pose an imminent threat to themselves or others — than they were nearly half a year ago, when county officials hit contract turbulence with Vista del Mar. According to Suzanne Grimmesey, spokesperson for the county’s Department of Behavioral Wellness, Vista del Mar is now caring for only five psychiatric patients a night from Santa Barbara County. Last year, the number was 9.8, and the year before that it was 11.2.
The county and Vista del Mar have been negotiating terms and rates for four months now. At issue is how much more Santa Barbara County will have to spend for such care. In the last two years, the supervisors budgeted $2 million annually to send patients to Vista del Mar, but given the high demand for such services, they wound up spending $1 million more. Pending resolution of the contract negotiations, county mental-health workers have sought to place clients experiencing acute psychiatric distress in less restrictive venues, such as the county’s Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU), which has a maximum capacity of eight persons. In addition, Grimmesey said, clients that might otherwise have been hospitalized are being taken to local emergency rooms.
The heart of the problem is that there are only 16 involuntary-hold psychiatric beds in all of Santa Barbara County. Behavioral Wellness has been in talks with Marian Medical in Santa Maria to open up 23-26 new beds, but those talks — now entering their fourth year — have yet to achieve definite results. Behavioral Wellness has recently begun talks with Lompoc Valley Medical Center, as well, to open an acute-care psychiatric hospital there.