Santa Clara County Mental Health System “Fundamentally Broken”

Since Santa Clara County declared a mental health crisis in January, little has changed to combat the problem, supervisors said in a memorandum to County Executive Jeff Smith.

Local officials are frustrated by the county’s lack of progress in addressing its mental health crisis and are calling for the acceleration of several projects, including the construction of a youth psychiatric facility at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

Supervisors Susan Ellenberg and Otto Lee call for immediate progress on a range of behavioral health programs, projects and services. Since the couple declared a mental health crisis earlier this year, the county has reported that 188 residents have died from drug overdoses and 106 from suicide.

“In just seven months, that’s a loss of nearly 300 of our children, siblings, parents, friends and neighbors, and they died preventable,” Ellenberg said. “This is a public health crisis because our current care system is not equipped to meet the demands.”

He said the county needs to move urgently to meet mental health needs.

“It seems to me that everyone is working very hard, with great compassion within a system that is fundamentally broken,” Ellenberg said.

The mental health and substance use crisis in Santa Clara County has seen a record rise in suicides and drug overdoses, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools have seen an unprecedented number of young people and teenagers suffering from severe depression and anxiety. For adults, the problem is further exacerbated by inadequate beds in behavioral health treatment facilities and the overuse of prisons to incarcerate those in need of mental health services.

The supervisors are asking county leaders to begin building a 77-bed psychiatric facility serving children and adolescents within the next three months. The project, which has been in preparation for seven years, would be the first youth psychiatric facility run by the county. Several candidates running in the November elections have criticized the $ 233 million project, saying it is too expensive.

“When I hear the 2024 and 2025 dates, it tells me we’re not moving fast enough,” Lee said, referring to the estimated timelines on a number of mental health projects.

Smith said the county continues to address the problem, but there is no easy answer to the problem. He added that the county is considering four contractors to build the psychiatric hospital, with plans to report in November. The hospital was supposed to go into operation in 2023, but due to delays and cost overruns with XL Construction the contract was terminated. The completion of the works is now scheduled for December 2024.

“We definitely have the best behavioral health system in the state, and probably the nation,” Smith said. “We clearly have problems, but given the fact that behavioral health and substance abuse problems have been emergencies for far more than a generation, we are at a precipice where we can actually make a difference.”

Address the problem urgently

As Santa Clara County continues to report a lack of mental health beds, Ellenberg and Lee want to expand the capacity to serve patients leaving acute hospital admissions or prison. The additional beds, which provide intermediate care, would free up space for others with more needs or allow patients to leave the prison, supervisors said.

They also want county officials to accelerate a refurbishment process at a private facility on S. Bascom Avenue to add 28 nursing beds, find funding for 20 readily available beds with a different contractor, and create a timeline for a self-contained health facility. long-term mental. with a term of 90 days.

In response, Smith said the South Bascom facility will begin renovations this week, with plans to finish in April 2023. Officials will update the board on other projects at a later time.

Ellenberg and Lee also ask the county to add 20 “social detox” beds and implement a medical detox unit over the next three months. Social detox beds support patients with substance use issues entering recovery. Medical detox beds serve those with complex medical conditions. Officials said the social detox beds are expected to go online next summer.

To address an ongoing worker shortage, Lee and Ellenberg asked for an action plan on how to invest in students in the county pipeline and recruit new workers by December. Smith said a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists and mental health specialists is reducing the county’s ability to recruit.

“The funding is awarded and we are willing to fund more,” Smith said. “The biggest difficulty is finding the skilled workers who can do this job”.

The supervisors also indicated that $ 100 million of remaining funds under the Mental Health Services Act was a county bankruptcy and requested that it be allocated to the services.

A number of residents and supporters called to support Lee and Ellenberg’s leadership.

“I urge the board of supervisors to hold the county administration accountable for meeting the needs of people with mental disabilities,” said Sandra Asher, member of Show Up for Racial Justice @ Sacred Heart. “Many of our neighbors are still falling through the cracks.”

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