Long wait times, staffing shortages and other issues at county-run behavioral treatment centers have led the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to initiate more oversight regarding developments in expanding mental health services.
The board is now receiving monthly updates on mental health and substance abuse services, and on Tuesday heard this month's report from the county's Behavioral Health Services Department (BHSD) that said new beds for care could be available as soon as next month.
The county expects to secure eight acute care beds, designed to treat patients suffering from acute mental illness like methamphetamine-induced psychosis, by the beginning of November.
An adolescent psychiatric facility is also in the works. The new facility, to be located on South Bascom Avenue, will add 77 inpatient beds for varying levels of need. Occupancy is expected by October 2024.
The county is also working to expand its capacity for sub-acute care, which are locked facilities that provide long-term, intensive mental health care. These are the next step for patients leaving acute care, but often lead to lengthy stays because, according to the report, "patients provided care at these facilities have special needs that preclude them from living independently in the community."
BHSD said in the report that there is a "severe shortage" of sub-acute mental health care facilities and Santa Clara County has 256 such beds in its network of providers.
The county has expanded its contract with Crestwood Center San Jose, a behavioral health facility that provides inpatient and outpatient services, to add 20 sub-acute beds for county use by Nov. 15. They expect to have an additional 25 beds at the same facility by July 2023.
But that doesn't mean that new patients will be admitted to those beds right away. Placement will continue to be based on turnover. That means that one patient must vacate their place at the facility before a new patient can be placed there.
According to the BHSD continuum of care, adult residential treatment can take up to 24 months to complete, which is why the department is trying to expand the program.
Licensed residential treatment facilities have to meet the standard of care from the California Department of Social Services community care licensing division and the Department of Health Care Services and can be difficult to procure, particularly in the Bay Area where housing and facility costs are high.
One residential contract is underway, though. A project at 650 S. Bascom Ave. has been leased and is under renovation. When complete, Momentum for Mental Health will operate 28 residential treatment beds at the site.
Jeff Draper, the director of facilities and fleet for BHSD, said that he expects the project to move quickly over the next three months, but the facility isn't expected to begin operations until April 2023.
The final development from the report was the launch of 988, a national three-digit non-emergency suicide prevention lifeline network that callers can dial to receive compassionate support and connection to local services if they or a loved one are in mental health distress.
Since the launch of 988, BHSD said it was able to reduce local caller wait times from 15 minutes to 8-10 minutes.
But the supervisors weren't too impressed with how the hotline is performing so far, calling its services "inconsistent."
"There's sometimes a disconnect between what we believe that we're providing and say that we're providing and how it's actually accessed by users," said Board of Supervisors vice president Susan Ellenberg.
Ellenberg called upon the public to share any feedback on the efficacy of 988 to any extent that they were comfortable so that the call line could be improved.
BHSD will provide an additional mental health and substance use services update in November.