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County Supervisors Weigh In On Solutions To ‘Public Health Emergency’

Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside recently announced the closing of its in...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside recently announced the closing of its inpatient mental health and crisis stabilization units, June 2018.

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San Diego County Supervisors took a number of steps to address what they called "a public health emergency," with a new plan to strengthen mental and behavioral health services region-wide.

Aired: June 26, 2019 | Transcript

San Diego County Supervisors took a number of steps to strengthen mental and behavioral health services region-wide. But they did not agree to go ahead with a new crisis treatment center at Tri-City, which closed its units last year.

Responding to what they called, “a public health emergency,” the Supervisors agreed to work on a regional system of care for those experiencing mental health crises. The board approved expanding the number of Psychiatric Emergency Response or PERT teams and finding sites for new behavioral health centers in communities around the region, where people in crisis could get short term, immediate care.

By Reporter Alison St John

San Diego County Supervisors took a number of steps to address what they called "a public health emergency," with a new plan to strengthen mental and behavioral health services region-wide.

The crisis hit the headlines last year when Tri-City Medical Center in North County decided to shut down its behavioral health inpatient departments for crisis stabilization. Tri-City’s board cited the cost of new state-mandated facilities upgrades, low doctor reimbursement rates and a shortage of qualified staff.

North County Supervisor Jim Desmond, who has been meeting with Tri-City leaders, asked the Supervisors to approve a $14 million investment to build a new crisis stabilization center on the Tri-City campus.

“You think sitting new housing is difficult,” he said. “Siting a behavioral health facility is almost impossible but we have one here. Tri-City is offering a good behavioral health site on their campus. It doesn’t require a zoning change, probably no lawsuits, the neighbors aren’t coming out with pitchforks, it’s next to a hospital where other services can be offered.”

But the other Supervisors cited other hospitals that have struggled with the same problems. Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said they realized mental health care is not a profit center, but they managed to keep their behavioral health units open. The supervisors specifically praised the cooperation they have had from UCSD and Palomar Hospital.

County board chair Dianne Jacob said Tri-City “walked away from their responsibility” and she suggested modifying Desmond’s proposal.

“This is a partnership that we would be creating with Tri-City, not a bail out,” Jacob said, “and that has to be really clear as we move forward.”

Supervisor Desmond agreed to accept the modified proposal.

‘I don’t believe that Tri-City is looking for a handout,” he said, “they’re just looking to survive.”

Ultimately, the board approved negotiating with Tri-City or any other hospital willing to enter into a partnership where the county would help with capital construction costs for new behavioral health centers.

In a related item, Supervisor Kristen Gaspar proposed spending $10 million on three projects in Escondido to find housing for people experiencing homelessness, including youth and victims of sex trafficking. Most of the money, $6 million, will go to Interfaith Community Services to purchase a property in Escondido to provide recuperative care and temporary housing for the homeless.

Gaspar praised Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara for being willing to support these projects. She also called on other city leaders to be more open to sitting the proposed behavioral health centers in their communities.

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