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Health

North County mental health facility will fill regional need

County, city and health leaders picked up shovels Monday to break ground on a new psychiatric health facility at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside.

The new psychiatric facility will be a secure, 13,560 square foot, 16-bed inpatient facility at the western edge of the Tri-City Medical Center campus.

"This is the latest installment of future  behavioral health care in our county and it’s a key piece of  the North County mental health safety net," said Nick Macchione, the director of the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency.

In 2018, Tri-City closed its secure 18-bed psychiatric unit and 12-patient crisis stabilization center, when a change in federal law required some costly renovations.

But the closure left a void in the region for people struggling with emergency mental health situations.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said decades of underfunding the mental health system have gotten us to where we are now.

"If everyone sitting here right now broke your leg  as a society we would have no problem getting you in we’d get you an x-ray, a cast, a pair of crutches — you’d be able to go on with your day," he said, "but if everyone here right now needed mental health treatment or needed substance abuse treatment it wouldn’t be available."

Fletcher said the new unit is a step in the right direction.

"It may not be a broken bone and yet what we have... it feels like at times [what we have] are Band-Aids for these families and these individuals are equally broken," said Dr. Gene Ma, the chief medical officer for Tri-City Healthcare District, echoing Fletcher's analogy.

Ma said for him, and for the doctors and families who desperately need treatment, this was more than a groundbreaking. "Those shovels represent hope. They represent a new day. And this model is truly groundbreaking and so from the bottom of my heart from all the providers I thank you," he said to the small crowd gathered for the ceremony.

The facility is expected to begin operations next year.

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