The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is likely in for a day of impassioned and gut-wrenching testimony Tuesday when it considers an appeal of a highly controversial psychiatric hospital proposed in Templeton.
At the heart of the controversy is the plan to build a 91-bed psychiatric hospital on a vacant lot across the street from Twin Cities Community Hospital. There are also plans for a significantly less controversial separate 60-bed live-in memory care facility.
The proposed psychiatric hospital is designed to treat patients of all ages who have mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and eating disorders. The hospital would not treat those suffering from substance abuse.
The Planning Commission approved the hospital Jan. 14 after two lengthy hearings. The commission listened to more than 5 1/2 hours of public comment at those hearings, said Holly Phipps, the county planner for the project. The first hearing was held Dec. 10.
“The commission extensively discussed the project issues including traffic, drainage, fire safety and height,” Phipps wrote in a staff report.
On Jan. 28, Murray Powell of Templeton filed an appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision. The proposed hospital is the only hearing on Tuesday’s agenda, and county planning staff estimates the hearing could last five or more hours and take up much of the day.
Staff is recommending that supervisors deny the appeal and uphold the Planning Commission’s decision to approve the project.
Hundreds of letters, both for and against the project, have been submitted to the Board of Supervisors as of Friday afternoon. The letters echo the many hours of testimony before the Planning Commission.
Many Templeton residents say the hospital is too big and that Templeton is not the right place for it. They also say it will attract psychiatric patients from across the state — creating a substantial number of negative impacts for the community.
They have called for downsizing the facility to 15 to 20 beds or finding a new location for it. Elizabeth Wright of Templeton said it was ridiculous to consider Templeton as the location for the hospital.
“It is too large for this small town, we will be importing patients from all around, the traffic will increase, which is already congested,” Wright wrote to Supervisor Frank Mecham.
Supporters of the hospital say the facility will fill a desperate need for more mental health treatment options in the county. There is no similar facility in the county for residents with insurance who need inpatient treatment, forcing many to either seek care elsewhere or do without.
Jim Gregory, a retired high school teacher in Arroyo Grande, wrote in a letter to supervisors that he supports the hospital because he has been hospitalized out of the area three times because of suicidal tendencies he said were brought on by depression.
“Here is what those psychiatric facilities in someone else’s backyard did for me,” he wrote. “They saved my life.”