Orange County has long had a severe shortage of hospital beds for people experiencing a mental health crisis, particularly children.
Because of that, many patients have to wait more than a day at an unequipped hospital before they can see a psychiatrist, which experts say often worsens the situation.
But progress is expected to come in December, when county officials plan to open a new crisis stabilization facility in Garden Grove to serve up to 22 patients at a time, including youth aged 13 and up.
The 24/7 facility will accept people who are undergoing a psychiatric emergency and at risk of being hospitalized, but can’t wait for an appointment elsewhere. It is scheduled to open on Dec. 1 and serve anyone meeting that criteria who walks in, is dropped off by police, or is referred by an emergency room, according to the county.
Each patient’s stay will limited to just under 24 hours.
County supervisors approved a contract Tuesday with Exodus Recovery, Inc. to operate the facility. The Culver City-based firm is affiliated with St. Joseph’s Hospital and is run by the husband and wife team of David and Luana Murphy. The company runs several mental health facilities in Los Angeles and elsewhere.
“This is a big step forward for us,” said Supervisor Andrew Do, who led the effort along with Supervisor Lisa Bartlett.
Bartlett said she hoped to get more of these centers opened up throughout Orange County to help people get “back on their feet” again.
She also credited state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Irvine), who succeeded in getting state officials to clarify in July that state Mental Health Services Act funding can be used for crisis stabilization services.
For decades, the county government has had just one crisis stabilization unit, a 10-bed facility is in Santa Ana. There are also several hundred psychiatric beds at private facilities across Orange County, but they are often full.
In response to the shortage, county supervisors sought and received a $3 million state grant to help establish the Garden Grove facility.
The ongoing costs for patient care will be covered by federal and state dollars, in the case of Medi-Cal patients, and private insurance for people who have private coverage. County officials don’t expect to need any other funding sources.
Under its county contract, Exodus is slated receive $9.1 million in the first year, and $7.4 million per year after.
During Tuesday’s supervisors’ meeting, Jennifer Muir Beuthin, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, raised concerns about the new facility being run by a private contractor. The Santa Ana facility is run by county employees.
Beuthin said the union full supports the new facility, but pointed out that the county admitted that it hasn’t evaluated why it would be better to outsource than have county employees provide the services.
Other information is missing, she said, like the financial health of contractor, how conflicts of interest would be addressed, and who at the county would be assigned to oversee the contract.
Beuthin pointed to another county health contractor that recently filed for bankruptcy, leaving many residents without care.
“We can’t let this happen again,” she said.
Additionally, she said the county was required to to meet and confer with employees before contracting the new crisis bed jobs to a private sector provider.
Mark Refowitz, director of the county’s Health Care Agency, disputed that there was a need to meet and confer. He said the Garden Grove facility is entirely separate from the Santa Ana facility, and that seven county employees will be added to the Santa Ana facility later this year as part of an expansion.
None of the supervisors nor county staff responded to Beuthin’s other concerns regarding the outsourcing.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.