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Orange County to Open Short-term Psychiatric Crisis Centers


Orange County plans to open two crisis centers for people experiencing acute mental health symptoms that should shorten wait times for treatment.

Thestate of California awarded $3 million to Orange County to open the crisis stabilization units. The facilities will be able to triage up to 22 patients a day, usually short stays, before being discharged or referred to a longer term treatment option.

“It’s in between just one appointment at an out-patient center versus a 24-hour longer stay at a hospital,” said Linda Molina, a division manager of Adult and Older Adult Behavioral Health at O.C. Health Care Agency.

The crisis stabilization units are supposed to free up police officers who are required to stay with people they deem are in need of a psychiatric evaluation. Officers can take them to a hospital, but there may not be a treatment immediately available or an emergency room bed open.

That can lead to hours of wait time, with patients sometimes handcuffed to a lobby chair for safety while they experience hallucinations, suicidal thoughts or severe depression.

“Patients who have these kinds of symptoms should not be in a medical emergency room,” said Tom Loats, director of behavioral health services at St. Joseph Hospital.

Loats said most hospital emergency rooms aren’t equipped to deal with mental health crises. The crisis units are also supposed to relieve emergency medical bed space.

St. Joseph’s has a 14-bed emergency unit, which is off to the side of the medical emergency room, where patients can be evaluated, discharged or kept for longer treatment. The hospital also has 36 in-patient beds for longer stays.

After an investigation by the Orange County Register on the county's psychiatric bed shortage, the Orange County Grand Jury released a report in June 2015 saying the region had 22 psychiatric beds per 100,000 residents, which is about 30 beds shy of the standard recommended by the California Hospital Association.

Opening these facilities should help the county with its bed shortage since not every patient with a mental health emergency will require an overnight stay. However, the volume of patients coming through the crisis stabilization units will require mental health experts and officials to find a solution, Loats said.

“We need a safe discharge for them,” he said.

Contracts and plans for the crisis stabilization units are expected by the end of next year.

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