There are many good reasons the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission should approve the application for a 91-bed private psychiatric hospital in Templeton. But it primarily comes down to this: We desperately need it.
The California Hospital Association recommends 136 psychiatric beds for our county. We have 16 at the county-run Psychiatric Health Facility in San Luis Obispo, and those beds are primarily for patients on Medi-Cal.
Privately insured patients have to go out of the county for care. We’re talking about real-life families who have to travel hundreds of miles — juggling jobs, child care, schooling and other responsibilities — to get their sons and daughters and mothers and fathers the inpatient care they need.
Finally, there’s an opportunity to address that shortage. The Templeton facility would serve children, adolescents and adults — including veterans and seniors — with mental illnesses such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
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The hospital has the support of many mental health professionals, families dealing with mental illness, and several civic leaders and organizations. But a vocal group of opponents — most of them Templeton residents — are outraged.
Among other concerns, they object that the Templeton facility could serve patients from out of the county. That’s perplexing, given that San Luis Obispo residents have been seeking psychiatric care at out-of-county hospitals for years. Apparently, that’s OK, but it’s not all right for Santa Maria or Fresno or Ventura residents to receive treatment here.
Several critics do support the addition of some psychiatric beds — just not in Templeton. San Luis Obispo is mentioned as a better location. In letters to county officials, a few opponents float the idea of turning the shuttered, state-run Boys School in Paso Robles into a mental hospital. It’s also been suggested that San Luis Obispo County build a 16-bed hospital for involuntary patients who can’t be served at the existing county facility.
The county can barely afford its present program. Where would it get the money to build a new facility? As for a hospital in San Luis Obipso or Paso Robles, there’s no such proposal on the table.
The application is for a hospital in Templeton. As we’ve noted before, it would be in an area zoned for medical facilities and surrounded by other medical providers, including Twin Cities Community Hospital. Although opponents portray their community as a sleepy little town that couldn’t possibly accommodate a psychiatric facility, Templeton in fact has an array of medical services that draw patients from throughout the county.
Critics also cite traffic and lack of water. They’ve accused the hospital developers of greed and questioned the credentials of the out-of-state company chosen to operate it. They’ve pointed out that Templeton has no city council or police department. In letters to county officials, they’ve used the words “nightmare,” “disaster” and “devastating” to describe the project.
One letter writer referred to the mass shooting in San Bernardino. “Can you guarantee with 100% certainty that this type of shooting would not happen at Templeton’s proposed psychiatric hospital?” the writer asked.
Of course not — any more than local officials guarantee there won’t be a mass shooting at a school or movie theater or fast-food restaurant.
But assuming that psychiatric hospitals — by their mere existence — put everyone living nearby at great risk is absurd and harkens back to the bad old days when people with mental illnesses were treated as pariahs.
It’s especially troubling that some medical professionals in Templeton are among those perpetuating the stigma that people with mental illness are violent, dangerous and untreatable and, once released, will wander the streets of Templeton, posing a danger to its citizens.
As with any new development, there will be some impacts. Water and traffic are concerns, but what is it saying if we can’t provide road capacity or water to take care of sick people?
As for concerns about the operator, it’s important to note that the county permitting process is just one step; the proposal also must be scrutinized and licensed by the state.
Bottom line: We believe we are all safer when we acknowledge that mental illness exists and provide adequate treatment and support for patients and their families.
One supporter put it like this: “It is the untreated neighbors we should worry about.”
Exactly. We strongly urge the Planning Commission to approve the application for a psychiatric hospital in Templeton.
If you go
The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission meets Thursday at the County Government Center in San Luis Obispo. The meeting chairman does not expect the hearing on the proposed Templeton hospital to begin any earlier than 11 a.m.