Palomar Health will build a 120-bed behavioral health hospital in Escondido

Palomar Health will work with Kindred, one of the nation’s largest specialty hospital operators, to build a 120-bed behavioral health hospital at its Escondido medical campus, more than replacing the 22-bed inpatient unit that closed in 2020 .

The project represents a significant improvement for the region’s mental health treatment capacity, which has been most depleted in North San Diego County with facility closings or shutdowns, forcing many patients to travel south to more centrally located hospitals that themselves are already heavily used.

According to a statement jointly released by Palomar and Kindred on Thursday, the facility will cost $100 million to build, is expected to open in 2024 and will span 90,000 square feet over three floors. The facility is expected to employ around 200 people.

Dr. Luke Bergman, director of the county’s director of behavioral health, applauded the announcement, saying it not only strengthens capacity in and around Escondido, but has the potential to help ease pressures elsewhere in the system.

“I absolutely wholeheartedly applaud Palomar’s commitment to doing behavioral health care, making behavioral health part of what they as a major health system are addressing,” Bergman said.

Diane Hansen, Palomar’s CEO, said in a written statement that the project should have far-reaching effects.

“This partnership helps us redefine behavioral health and offer support to so many people who need it, which is very important to us and our community,” Hansen said.

The announcement is an important milestone in the journey to rebuild mental health capacity in North County, which saw Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside close its inpatient unit in 2018, citing financial difficulties with federal requirements to make expensive upgrades to reduce potential hanging hazards such as drop ceilings in patient service areas.

Two years later, Palomar, which continued to operate a 22-bed unit at the original Palomar Medical Center in downtown Escondido, closed the facility after it was sold. Since then, many patients have found themselves leaving their communities if they need mental health care that requires a hospital stay.

The organization’s statement did not make clear exactly what the financial split will be between the public health district that operates Palomar and Kindred, a for-profit specialty hospital operator based in Louisville, Ky., or whether the project has yet been approved by an elected board of directors of Palomar. The rate of access for those covered by Medi-Cal — the government’s health insurance — was also not specified.

Hansen was said to be traveling and could not answer further questions about the project on Thursday.

The new Palomar joint venture, expected to break ground in about 12 months, isn’t the only project slated for construction. Oceanside city planners recently signed off on a county-funded, 16-bed, $20 million behavioral health hospital on the Tri-City Medical Center campus.

The Tri-City location is expected to open in 2023 and will follow the opening of two new crisis stabilization centers in Oceanside and Vista, where patients can receive up to 24 hours of treatment in a quiet and comfortable environment.

These first two locations represent the first visible evidence of a much broader countywide strategy focused on creating dedicated mental health centers in all regions of San Diego County. Plans, officials said recently, call for the next crisis stabilization center to be built in East County. The county is also working on comprehensive redevelopment plans for property it owns on Third Avenue near the Scripps Mercy and UC San Diego Hillcrest medical campuses.

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