Over the Hill

Start slow on Templeton mental health facility

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

You probably heard that a 96-bed mental health hospital has been proposed for Templeton. Quite a few Templeton residents oppose it. The idea of housing 96 mental patients in their small community makes them uneasy, to say the least.

The Templeton Area Advisory Group voted 7-0 to recommend that county officials reject this proposed mental hospital. One Templeton resident said a better location for it might be the vacant former Youth Authority School in Paso Robles.

That may not be a bad idea. The Boys School, as we Roblans called it, has been mostly empty since 2008, when the state stopped using it to house juvenile lawbreakers. Paso Robles city officials might view a big mental hospital there as a new industry and welcome it warmly.

Some Templeton residents seem worried that schizophrenics or other mental patients could simply walk out of the proposed hospital and onto Templeton streets. The patients could just ask the attending physician to release them. They wouldn’t be locked in like patients are at Atascadero State Hospital.

But the patients wouldn’t be in the proposed hospital because they committed crimes — they’d just be suffering from a mental illness. And just think: Getting released from a hospital can be an involved process. It might take enough time to allow the hospital to alert doctors and relatives.

As it is, we all live among mentally ill people. The California HealthCare Foundation says about one out of every 20 California adults suffers from a serious mental illness. And many aren’t treated. It may have always been that way.

In 1941, when I was 11 years old, a mentally ill woman lived on the farm next to ours. We had company for dinner one Sunday, and as we sat at the dining-room table, we saw the neighbor woman walk hurriedly past our windows twice. She was circling our house. Mother went out and brought the frantic woman in. She said her heart was stopping and a chiropractor was trying to steal her baby.

My mother calmed her down by saying her heart couldn’t stop as long as she kept breathing. Mother then called the woman’s family. She eventually went to the “State Hospital.”

That’s what most of us called mental hospitals in those days. But that story doesn’t mean our county should accept this proposed mental hospital. It isn’t being proposed by a famous institution like the Mayo Clinic. It’s proposed by Vizion HealthCare of Louisiana and Florida. Most of us never heard of them.

Personally, I’d like to see a local psychiatrist or neurologist open a 15- or 20-bed, acute-care mental hospital in Templeton and then grow it. There is a need. We should keep open minds.