Santa Clara County broke ground Wednesday on a first-of-its-kind behavioral health center for children and adolescents.
The new mental health center in San Jose, which will be linked to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, will operate inpatient and outpatient medical and psychiatric care to children and adolescents in need of behavioral health care, as well as have a separate floor for adults.
The center fills an important gap in behavioral health care for youth in the county. Access to child and adolescent inpatient psychiatric care is limited in Santa Clara County.
Children and adolescents who have needed short-term psychiatric hospitalization have been sent to facilities as far away as Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano and even Sacramento counties, taking them far away from the support of family, caregivers and their own behavioral care team.
"Separating these kids from their families at one of the toughest times in their lives, that's just hell on them," said Supervisor Joe Simitian, who serves as chair of the county Board of Supervisors' Health and Hospital Committee and who first proposed the project in June 2015.
"I'm worried, frankly, that the specter of long-distance treatment currently deters kids and families from seeking the help they need in the first place."
When the Board of Supervisors approved construction on the new center in 2017, 689 Santa Clara County youth were admitted to out-of-area psychiatric hospitals, far from their homes and support systems. The average stay spanned about six days.
County leaders said the future facility will be unique because it will house multiple programs under one roof and provide a centralized location to support the needs of anyone who relies on the county services.
The center will consolidate and integrate behavioral health services that are currently provided elsewhere throughout the Valley Medical Center campus into the new facility with 35 inpatient beds, emergency psychiatric services and mental health urgent care for children and adolescents. It will also have 42 adult inpatient psychiatric beds and services in a separate, secured part of the building.
The 207,000-square-foot facility will be linked by skyway to Valley Medical Center's Emergency Department to allow patients who have co-occurring medical issues to be treated on-site.
The current construction schedule calls for the project to be completed and open to patients in late 2025.
The Palo Alto connection
Simitian credits Sigrid Pinsky, a Palo Alto resident, for alerting him to the tremendous need for a local facility such as the one planned.
Pinsky, a member of the Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Board, said she knew of many people whose children were in crisis and they had to go out of the county to find in-patient services.
"People were entering this dark universe that no one knew existed, and to have your child hours away was just unacceptable," she said.
Simitian "just jumped right on it," coming up with a proposal to take to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in five to six months.
"I'm just so grateful to the whole board. They got on it," she said.
The facility, when it opens, will have integrated services for children, adolescents and adults.
"This is a big one. We still don't have enough psychiatrists and psychologists, but to fix this piece is tremendous," she said.
One piece that Pinsky said is most important: breaking the stigma around mental health issues.
"We've just got to make this OK," she said.