Health

Santa Clara County unveils new residential mental health facility amid psychiatric bed shortage

SAN JOSE — The rooms inside this building—modestly furnished with neatly made twin beds, tables, chairs and nightstands decorated with vases of faux orange-and-violet daises—may look unremarkable. But to Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, they represent hope.

The 11 double-occupancy rooms and six singles—a total of 28 beds—will house adults with severe mental illnesses at the county’s newest residential mental health treatment center, which is set to open this fall. Across the street from Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in West San Jose, it will serve who are no longer in crisis, but need assistance transitioning back to their day-to-day lives.

“Each one of these rooms offers the opportunity, the hope of a better life,” Simitian told an enthusiastic crowd gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the facility on Tuesday afternoon. “Each of these rooms promises the hope of a life that is full and richer and worth living.”

The county's new 28-bed inpatient mental health facility had a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by many local politicians, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in San Jose, Calif. The facility operated by Momentum for Health is in a former detox facility next to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
The county’s new 28-bed inpatient mental health facility had a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by many local politicians, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in San Jose, Calif. The facility operated by Momentum for Health is in a former detox facility next to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

In addition to its rooms, the $1.8 million renovated facility—formerly a detox center run by Horizon Services—has two common rooms, a kitchen and space for group and individual therapy. Patients, who could receive services for up to two years, according to county officials, will also have access to psychiatric services, addiction treatment and other support.

The facility will be run by one of the county’s contractors, Momentum for Health, and services are estimated to cost $2.8 million annually.

The expansion of Santa Clara County’s stock of psychiatric beds comes a year-and-a-half after Board President Susan Ellenberg declared a local mental health and substance use crisis, and just a week after the release of a county-commissioned study that found a local shortage of psychiatric beds.

Since Ellenberg’s January 2022 declaration, the county has expanded its contracts to add 99 psychiatric beds. The board has also recently dedicated funding for another 173 beds, including the 28 on South Bascom Avenue.

“Locally, we are moving faster than we had been for a number of years,” Ellenberg told the Mercury News. “Locally, we are also paying more significant attention to the distinctions between mental health treatment and substance use disorder treatment, and the different facilities and responses that are needed.”

A room at Santa Clara County's new 28-bed inpatient mental health facility is toured, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in San Jose, Calif. Operated by Momentum for Health, the facility is in a former detox center next to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
A room at Santa Clara County’s new 28-bed inpatient mental health facility is toured, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in San Jose, Calif. Operated by Momentum for Health, the facility is in a former detox center next to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

The county will have to continue to move quickly if it wants to meet the demand. According to a recently released county-commissioned study from non-partisan think tank RAND Corporation, Santa Clara County has a significant shortage of subacute psychiatric beds — a level of care in which patients often require in-house care for several months.

In order to meet the needs of the community, researchers said the county requires 251 acute inpatient beds, 90 crisis residential beds and 372 subacute beds.The study estimated that for adults in the county, there are 304 acute inpatient beds and 92 crisis residential beds–exceeding the number required in those categories–but only 216 subacute beds.

Jonathan Levin, an associate policy researcher at RAND, said the county will need 3.6% more adult psychiatric beds over the next five years to meet its needs.

In an effort to help the county meet its goals, the RAND report offered several recommendations that included increasing the number of beds for it refers to as “hard-to-place populations.”

“On the psychiatry side, that was particularly for individuals with dementia, individuals who were non-ambulatory, those who require oxygen and those without funding sources,” Levin said. “And on the substance disorder use treatment facility side, only about 5% of facilities accepted individuals with dementia. Only about a fifth of the facilities accepted patients with a physical co-occurring health condition or those who have an arson or sex offense conviction. There are also fairly low rates of accepting individuals who are non-ambulatory also without funding sources.”

For Valerie Aboge, turning to county mental health services after a suicide attempt last July was the first time in her life that she felt a feeling of security, safety and that she mattered. After spending time in the psychiatry ward at Stanford Hospital, she transitioned to one of Momentum’s residential treatment programs.

“The help is there and I am a living example that you can come from such darkness and get into the light because of the resources that are available,” she said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, round-the-clock support, information and resources for help. Call or text the lifeline at 988, or see the 988lifeline.org website, where chat is available.

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