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San Diego City Council declares behavioral health bed crisis

San Diego City Council members listen during a meeting. San Diego, Calif. Jan. 24, 2023.
Alexander Nguyen
San Diego City Council members listen during a meeting. San Diego, Calif. Jan. 24, 2023.

The San Diego City Council Tuesday unanimously declared a behavioral health bed crisis in the city and paved the way to explore zoning options to minimize hurdles for behavioral health facilities.

"Hospital staff, bed providers, first responders and social workers all agree: we must do more to increase behavioral health bed capacity in San Diego," said Councilman Raul Campillo, who sponsored the resolution. "San Diegans can't afford to wait any longer for serious progress on mental illness and addiction."

Additionally, the action — passed 8-0 during the council's morning meeting consent calendar — directs city staff to "have regular communication with county, local and regional partners to ensure strong coordination between all parties in order to address the lack of behavioral health beds," a statement from Campillo's office reads.


"The deficit of available behavioral health beds creates a ripple effect across our entire medical system — impacting our most vulnerable constituents who need our support," said Councilman Kent Lee. "We must work collaboratively with our county, healthcare, first responder and non-profit partners across the region to do everything we can to meet those needs."

As chair of the Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee, Campillo has advocated for progress on behavioral health for several months. In September, he called a special meeting of the ED&IR Committee in order to hear from first responders, bed providers and other stakeholders about the state of behavioral health in San Diego.

According to Campillo's office, staff presented that San Diego County needs to increase utilization of subacute services by 64%, community-based care by 142% — or 450 beds, and community crisis diversion by 359%.

"As one of San Diego's largest providers of substance use disorder treatment and residential detoxification services, McAlister Institute has been on the frontlines of the behavioral health bed shortage," said Marisa Varond, executive director of McAlister Institute. "This is a crisis."

Campillo and Lee will held a news conference Tuesday morning on the issue, coming in the wake of Gov. Gavin Newsom's push for voters to approve Proposition 1, which would build more than 11,150 behavioral health beds and 26,700 outpatient treatment slots, when it appears on the ballot in March 2024.