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.
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
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,
“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.