New Crisis Stabilization Unit to Open Soon.

The mental health crisis is far-reaching and it’s impacting facilities locally. Come April, San Luis Obispo County will open the doors to a new facility that will help people suffering from a mental crisis.

It’s a $1.2 million building called the Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) that sits behind the Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF) in San Luis Obispo. Usually, a patient in emotional or psychological distress would be admitted to the PHF, which has 16 beds but can easily fill up. According to Judy Vick, the SLO County Division Manager of Adult Mental Services, the CSU will offer four beds and will only allow patients to stay for up to 24 hours.

“It’s a facility for us to help people stabilize who are in emotional or psychological crisis and the goal of the CSU is to help people avoid a higher level of care,” Vick said.

The grant for the project says in part, “The PHF experiences short lengths of stay, 28% of the total admissions in fiscal year 2014-2015 were discharged within 23 hours. Of that number, 65% were discharged to home or to self-care plans. This indicates that a CSU 23-hour stabilization unit may be a more appropriate level of care for many individuals who are admitted to the PHF.”

Vick says it’s the first time in years psychiatric beds have been added in the county. To put that number in perspective, she says there were 38,000 psych beds in California in the 1960s. Today, there are less than 4,000.

Vick provided this scenario for patients who would enter the CSU:

“Someone is in emotional distress and they’re being assessed and we’re checking to make sure that they could be safely handled in more of an outpatient-type setting,” Vick said. “So they’re responsive to a safety plan but they need time to stabilize.”

The facility provides a home-like environment with amenities like a shower, laundry, lockers, a kitchen, quiet room, and chairs that convert into beds.

Sierra Mental Wellness Group will be managing the facility. According to Christine Pirruccello, Crisis Services Program Manager for the agency, there will be a full staff operating the CSU.

“The staffing will be a nursing supervisor. We’re also going to have mental health professionals and medical professionals who are going to be on site and providing the different care,” Pirruccello said.

According to Raven Lopez, an accountant with San Luis Obispo Behavioral Health, $971,000 of the total cost for the project came from a grant from the California Health Facility Financing Authority and the remaining $300,000 was from funds out of the county budget. She says the costs to operate will be between $1.4 and $1.6 million annually. Lopez attributes some of the state funding to Senate Bill 82, otherwise known as the Investment Mental Health Wellness Act of 2013.

“In terms of county general fund and revenue, we need to offset the cost, is going to be fairly minimal in terms of county general fund dollars,” Lopez said.

According to Frank Warren, Division Manager for Prevention and Outreach for the Behavioral Health Department, the county estimates the new facility will serve around 375 people annually.