Long wait times, understaffing and other problems at county-run behavioral treatment centers have prompted the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to begin more oversight of developments in the expansion of mental health services.
The board now receives monthly updates on mental health and substance abuse services and on Tuesday heard this month’s report from the county’s Behavioral Health Services Division (BHSD), which said new care beds could be available as early as next month.
The county expects to provide eight urgent care beds designed to treat patients suffering from acute mental illnesses such as methamphetamine-induced psychosis by early November.
A psychiatric facility for adolescents is also in the works. The new facility, which will be located on South Bascom Avenue, will add 77 inpatient beds for various levels of need. Occupancy expected until October 2024.
The county is also working to expand its subacute care capacity, which are locked facilities that provide long-term, intensive mental health care. These are the next step for patients leaving emergency care, but often result in long stays because, according to the report, “patients cared for in these facilities have special needs that prevent them from living independently in the community.”
The BHSD report said there is a “severe shortage” of sub-acute psychiatric care facilities, and Santa Clara County has 256 such beds in its provider network.
The county has expanded its contract with Crestwood Center San Jose, a behavioral health facility that provides inpatient and outpatient services, to add 20 subacute beds for use by the county through Nov. 15. They expect to have an additional 25 beds in the same facility by July 2023.
But this does not mean that new patients will immediately be admitted to these beds. Placing will continue to be based on turnover. This means that a patient must vacate their place in the facility before a new patient can be admitted there.
According to BHSD’s Continuum of Care, nursing home treatment can take up to 24 months, which is why the department is trying to expand the program.
Licensed residential treatment facilities must meet a standard of care from the California Department of Social Services and Department of Health Services’ Community Care Licensing Division and can be difficult to secure, especially in the Bay Area, where the cost of housing and facilities are high.
However, one housing contract is in progress. Project at 650 S. Bascom Ave. is rented out and under renovation. When completed, Momentum for Mental Health will operate 28 inpatient treatment beds at the site.
Jeff Draper, director of facilities and fleet for BHSD, said he expects the project to move quickly in the next three months, but the facility is not expected to begin operating until April 2023.
A final development from the report was the launch of 988, a national three-digit non-emergency suicide prevention helpline that callers can dial to receive compassionate support and a link to local services if they or a loved one is experiencing mental illness .
Since the launch of 988, BHSD said it has been able to reduce waiting times for local callers from 15 minutes to 8-10 minutes.
But watchdogs have not been too impressed with how the hotline has performed so far, calling its services “inconsistent”.
“Sometimes there’s a disconnect between what we believe we provide and say we provide and how users actually access it,” said Board of Supervisors Vice President Susan Ellenberg.
Ellenberg urged the public to share any feedback on the efficacy of 988 to the extent they are comfortable with so that the hotline can be improved.
BHSD will provide an additional update on mental health and substance use services in November.