A mental health treatment wing in the San Luis Obispo County Jail and an emergency detoxification center are two projects that grabbed the attention of the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday among a list of recommendations for improving local mental health treatment.
Supervisors received recommendations from two ad hoc committees tasked with identifying problems at the jail and County Health Agency and suggesting solutions for preventing people from cycling through the criminal justice system.
“These are things that are urgent — they’re needed right now,” Atascadero Mayor Tom O’Malley told the board during public comment.
Following a $5 million settlement the county said it would pay the family of a mentally ill jail inmate who died in custody in January, the county created a Sheriff’s Task Force on Mental Health to bring together stakeholders to prevent similar deaths. Officials have said that the jail is overburdened with inmates with serious chronic medical and mental health problems.
In October, the supervisors voted to enroll the county in the Stepping Up Initiative, a national campaign in which local governments pledge to keep people with serious mental health needs out of the criminal justice system. Since then, the Mental Health Task Force was renamed the Stepping Up planning committee, which finalized a three-page list of recommendations to improve local treatment that included options for increasing mental health treatment at the jail, improving training for law enforcement and building detox and urgent care walk-in clinics.
A second executive committee made up of county officials prioritized those recommendations before the list went before the board Tuesday.
These are things that are urgent — they’re needed right now.
Atascadero Mayor Tom O’Malley
Separately, the county is also awaiting results of a review by a third-party consultant also tasked with providing recommended changes. Results of that review, requested by county administration, are expected within the first two months of 2018, County Counsel Rita Neal told the board.
A request for proposals to contract outside medical and mental health services at the jail is also expected to be released early next year.
Of the possible improvements already in motion, the Sheriff’s Office is expecting to open its newly constructed medical facility building at the jail in May 2018, Sheriff Ian Parkinson told the board Tuesday. The facility’s former building can be repurposed to provide an on-site mental health treatment and housing area.
“That process is moving forward in every which way we can,” Parkinson said.
Tuesday’s hearing was attended by the county’s seven police chiefs, officials from the jail and County Health, members of the county Grand Jury and several residents who say their families have been affected by a local lack of services.
Los Osos resident Linda Martin, who said her daughter injured herself after being denied medication and placed in a County Jail safety cell in 2016, said treatment of inmates at the jail now is a “crisis.”
“Competent psychiatrists need to be put in place right now,” Martin said.
That urgency was echoed by San Luis Obispo attorney Stew Jenkins, who urged the board to shore up funding for solutions that could be enacted quickly, such as hiring more staff at the jail.
“While (requests for proposals) are prepared, people are going to continue to die,” Jenkins said.
While (requests for proposals) are prepared, people are going to continue to die.
San Luis Obispo attorney Stew Jenkins
Aurora William, executive director of ECHO shelter in Atascadero, said the current system for people struggling with mental illness and substance abuse has “left us with a lot of families that are fragmented.” William told the board that a local detoxification facility is long overdue.
The board was set to simply receive and file the committee’s recommendations, but each supervisor added additional direction to staff about what they want to know next time the issue comes before the board, likely early next year.
Supervisor Bruce Gibson said that he wanted staff to select the top three to five recommendations or projects that make the most strategic sense to start first and come back with cost and time estimates.
Gibson also suggested shifting the leadership of the overall effort to the county’s administrative office, rather than the Sheriff’s Office, which he said would be better at engaging non-government stakeholders such as the faith and business communities. No other official backed Gibson’s recommendation.
Supervisor Adam Hill asked for staff to provide an update on the proposed 91-bed psychiatric hospital in Templeton approved by the county in March 2016. Behavioral Health Director Anne Robin said the county has not received an update from the developer on the private hospital in some time, but the most recent estimates have the facility completed in 2021, Robin said. An update on the project will come back before the board early next year.
While supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton said they wanted the Sheriff’s Office to continue moving forward with prioritizing the various improvements, Compton added that she wanted more information on mental health urgent care centers and identifying potential partners for such a facility.
Lastly, Supervisor John Peschong said he wanted staff to consult with the county’s lobbyist to see if there are legislative avenues to increase the number of beds in the county’s psychiatric facility, which is federally licensed for 16 beds.