Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In California, Santa Cruz County to open new residential psychiatric center, which will be staffed by people with mental illnesses

From Santa Cruz Sentinel:

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - People who may be suffering a mental health problem will soon have another option for treatment - a 24-hour crisis center to help nip small psychiatric issues before they get out of hand.

The new county-run residential facility, scheduled to open before the end of the year, is being funded by a $3.6 million federal grant and will come with the distinction of being staffed, not by hospital employees, but by people who have had and overcome mental health issues themselves.

"The whole idea is to catch the problem early and ratchet it down before people have to go to the hospital," said Yana Jacobs, county director of adult mental outpatient services, who has been planning the new center. "The story here is that people with mental illness are taking charge and helping one another."

This week's news of five years worth of funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has county health officials scurrying to find a site and staffing for the new center. Officials have not figured out where they want to locate, only that they'd like a centralized location near a bus line.

Plans for the new center come as county health officials reconfigure services for the mentally ill. Last year, Dominican Hospital announced the closing of its longtime psychiatric center, prompting the county to draw up plans for its own 16-bed acute-care psychiatric unit.

The new peer-run center will work in concert with the acute unit, health officials say, allowing them to steer people with bigger issues to the acute unit while still providing help for those with lesser problems.

"Our plans depend on us having a whole healthy network of services," said Leslie Tremaine, county mental health and substance abuse director.

The peer-run center, according to the terms of the federal grant, will accommodate about 225 patients each year, offering care for the public seven days a week, all day for such problems as mood swings and depression. Stays will average eight days.

"People are going to come for respite. They're coming here for a break," said Jacobs, who hopes the care will prevent patients from getting more sick and showing the problems that come with more advanced stages of mental illness, like losing a job or home.

Mental health experts estimate one in five people has suffered from a mental health problem at some point in their life.