Orange County leaders have committed large sums of taxpayer resources to a proposed mental health and wellness campus run by a nonprofit group.
The proposed Be Well campus in Irvine – and the first one that opened in Orange two years ago – come as people in OC and across California face major shortages in being able to access services for mental crises and substance treatment.
Officials say the campuses help fill a critical need of mental health and substance abuse treatment for residents.
Few Public Details
Altogether, $132 million in public money – from the county, federal and state – has been committed to the planned campus, along with 22 acres of county-owned land, according to budget info Voice of OC obtained from the county.
Yet little detail has been discussed in county supervisors’ public meetings about what services will be offered there.
Nor has there been much prior public discussion about how things are going at the existing Be Well campus in the city of Orange, which opened two years ago after receiving $38 million from the county.
Officials say the Orange campus has helped thousands of people, but they haven’t yet released data showing how effective its programs have been – things like big-picture numbers showing how people do after receiving treatment, and what percentage end up coming back.
And one of the main services at the Orange campus – longer-term treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction – will be on hold for a year after the county found problems with the original vendor’s performance.
County officials have committed $40 million in federal COVID recovery dollars to the Irvine project, as well as another $20 million in county-controlled Mental Health Services Act money.
Marshall Moncrief, who leads the nonprofit Mind OC that’s managing both campus projects, said plans for the new campus aren’t yet ready to become public, but that he expects to probably be able to do so by summer.
Asked for a copy of the specific plans for the Irvine campus, Moncrief said he and others “are developing those right now.”
“These plans are being developed in concert with the city, the county,” Moncrief said.
“It’s taken a whole village here to get everybody coordinated … the plans are ever-evolving. and so we should have something that we would be able to share before too long.”
The Irvine campus is expected to feature 24 crisis stabilization beds, as well as a 12-bed sobering station and residential substance use treatment beds for adolescents and women who are pregnant or have young kids, said Veronica Kelley, chief of mental health and recovery services for the Orange County Health Care Agency.
It comes in response to a major shortage of beds for people on public health insurance to get treatment for mental health crises or drug and alcohol addictions, she noted.
“We don’t have places for people to get better at,” she said – including no place currently in OC for adolescent boys to get residential drug and alcohol treatment if they’re on public Medicaid insurance, Kelley said.
There are only 6 such beds in the entire county for adolescent girls, she added, and no crisis stabilization unit in south OC for people experiencing mental health crises.
The Irvine campus is slated to have 16 residential substance use treatment beds for adolescent girls and 16 for boys.
Private residential drug treatment is out of reach for many OC residents – with costs often around $30,000 per month, much of which typically is not covered by private insurance, Kelley said.
Moncrief noted that at 22 acres, the Irvine campus land is much larger than the roughly 2-and-a-half acres for the existing Orange campus.
The Irvine site, he said, will feature not only outpatient services and medical clinics, but also gathering places for the community to learn and engage around mental health.
“With this, think of Irvine as a campus of health, wellness and resiliency – on an individual, family and community level,” he said.
How Well Are Existing Programs Working?
Two years after the existing campus opened in Orange, it’s been difficult to obtain metrics about how the existing campus has been doing and how many people it’s helped.
Voice of OC asked a county spokesperson for that info last Thursday. She referred the reporter to Be Well.
But Be Well’s leader – Moncrief – said in his Tuesday interview that any metrics would have to come from the county, because the county keeps that data.
A reporter asked the county again for metrics on Tuesday, and a Health Care Agency spokesperson said it “will take some time,” but is being worked on.
The existing Orange campus offers two crisis stabilization units – totaling 24 beds for adults and teens experiencing mental health crises – as well as a longer-term residential treatment program for mental health crises and a sobering station with 12 beds for people who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
The campus is supposed to have longer-term residential treatment for substance users.
But that residential substance use treatment program – totaling 30 beds – has been shut down for half a year because of problems with its former contractor, Telecare Corp.
County records show Telecare was put on a “corrective action plan” after OC Health Care Agency officials determined it wasn’t meeting its contractual obligations.
Among other things, county officials found Telecare needed to improve on providing adequate training to staff, retaining workers and meeting “performance objectives.”
The company failed to follow up with phone calls to any of the 888 people treated in its substance recovery station during an unspecified period county officials examined.
“0 follow up phone calls were made to clients discharged from the program,” the county evaluation document states.
In a written response to the county, Telecare said it takes “very seriously the concerns brought forth” and was working to fix them. But the contract was later canceled this past summer.
Moncrief acknowledged there’s slated to be a year-long closure of those treatment services.
“This is systems change. And so nobody’s done this before in Orange County,” he said. “There was a point where all parties decided there was an opportunity for improvement and change, and hence a new provider coming in.”
A well-respected new vendor has been hired, he said, though state licensing requirements mean they likely won’t be up and running until mid-year this year, Moncrief said.
“We’re going to be doing this as quickly as possible. But it could be towards the mid part of the year before everything is fully up, staffed and certified,” he said.
For the existing Be Well campus in Orange, the county government contributed $38 million towards its creation, including land and money for construction.
Taxpayers are slated to contribute $132 million towards the planned Irvine campus, according to budget information the county provided in response to a Voice of OC public records request
The vast majority of the campus’ budget is publicly funded by the county and other government sources like federal and state earmarks. The only private funding noted is $5 million from hospitals – “Memorial Care & Kaiser.”
It also notes a funding “gap” of $35 million.
Among the county’s contributions for the Irvine campus is $40 million in federal COVID recovery dollars for construction.
About $26 million of that is for direct construction costs, according to a budget plan Voice of OC obtained through a Public Records Act request.
The rest is for a mixture of project management ($4 million), furniture and equipment ($3.6 million) consultants ($1.8 million) and construction management ($1.7 million), among others.
Moncrief said the new campus could open in 2024.
“We’re going to be working as hard and focused as possible,” he said.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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