Letters to the Editor

Why SLO County should embrace mental health facility in Templeton

As a local provider of mental health services, Transitions-Mental Health Association supports the proposed behavioral health hospital in Templeton.

We recognize the stigma that still exists about mental illness, but we urge you to recognize this project as a desperately needed resource for our community. The mentally ill patients who would seek treatment at this new facility are living among us. The question is, would we prefer they be treated or remain untreated?

Untreated mental illness can lead to deterioration in one’s health and can lead to unfortunate consequences, sometimes with communitywide impact. Mental illness deserves to be seen for what it is: a health condition affecting a person’s ability to function, just like so many other physical health conditions for which hospitals and treatment centers exist countywide.

The planned hospital would be a voluntary facility, not a locked or forensic facility. Patients would be admitted by a medical professional or loved one for acute, short-term care and support services. A patient could ask to be released by an attending physician at any time. It would have controlled access and staff, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Staff would work with patients and their families to enable the best possible outcome, working toward a transition back into the community as quickly as clinically appropriate.

The hospital project is meant to treat almost anyone: children, adolescents, adults and geriatric people. This will be the only facility of its kind in San Luis Obispo County and will fill gaps currently existing in the county — gaps that cause tremendous difficulty for family members, doctors and the person in treatment. The San Luis Obispo Behavioral Health Department transports hundreds of county residents each year to psychiatric hospitals, some as far away as Sacramento. The California Hospital Association projects a need of 138 beds for a county of our size. The proposed facility would consist of 82 primary beds and 8 swing beds. The county Behavioral Health Department currently has 16 beds at its Psychiatric Health Facility, but those beds are frequently full, and are sometimes inappropriate for an acute, voluntary patient or a child in mental health crisis.

The funding will come from private insurance, managed care companies, Medicare, military plans and other funding sources as available to the level of care. There will be no need for municipal or county funding for the overall project. There will be no need for services from the Templeton School District for the children admitted to the facility, as has been rumored. We fully support plans for the Behavioral Health Hospital in Templeton and urge you to approve this important community facility.

There should be no place in our community where treatment for children, adults and seniors with mental illness is limited due to fear and discrimination. When we have the opportunity to provide quality treatment on par with the treatment for those with physical illness, we should welcome the opportunity with open arms.