Letters to the Editor

Templeton Behavioral Health Hospital is a great chance to make a difference

Here's an architectural rendering of a mental health hospital proposed for Templeton.
Here's an architectural rendering of a mental health hospital proposed for Templeton. Courtesy of Hochhauser Blatter Architecture and Planning

Often missing from the current discussion regarding the proposed Templeton Behavioral Health Hospital are solid facts and a compassionate understanding of the serious behavioral health inpatient needs that individuals and their families are struggling to cope daily in San Luis Obispo County.

Behavioral health issues continue to be stigmatized rather than recognized and treated like other health conditions that can impair a person’s ability to function on a daily basis.

The real focus of debate should be on the critical, unmet mental health needs in the county and how we can all help to address them in an informed and caring way.

A California Hospital Association study states that 50 inpatient hospital beds per 100,000 population is the minimum needed to seriously address current needs.

San Luis Obispo needs approximately 138 beds; the proposed hospital plans for 91 beds.

Last year, the county transported 350 patients to hospitals from Los Angeles to Santa Rosa.

This has been happening for years because there is no private inpatient facility in the county for nonviolent patients who are in acute crisis because of behavioral health issues including depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, etc. These outside referrals do not include the patient referrals by private health care professionals.

For many families and individuals, treatment is not an option if it involves traveling long distances outside the county, because of logistical, financial and workrelated concerns.

Families with children and adolescents suffer an added burden of trying to provide physical and emotional support to their loved ones who are separated from family, friends and community while in an acute crisis condition.

Optimum treatment is also difficult to plan, coordinate and communicate over long distances. Often, these patients require numerous hospitalizations before their condition can be successfully treated.

If individuals are in an emotional/mental crisis, the best place for them and their community is in an acute care behavioral health hospital like the one proposed for Templeton, which is set to provide private, short-term (up to 14 days) mental health care and treatment for children, adolescents, adults, seniors and veterans.

Patients are referred by health care professionals, similar to the way it is handled at a regular hospital.

The BHH will not be a forensic facility treating criminals; jails, state prisons and state hospitals care for these patients.

People often express concerns about security at the BHH. This new, modern facility will be very secure for patients and the community.

No one can just walk out at will without a physician review or release.

If a patient has been evaluated and found to be at risk of harming himself or others, the individual cannot leave the hospital at will, but will be picked up by the county and transported to the county’s holding facility.

When patients are discharged, they must be returned to their residences of origin, where they will receive continued treatment by their mental health care professionals or transferred to a longterm facility.

The hospital will provide transportation for those without it.

The hospital is set to be located in Templeton, in an area designated as the regional medical hub by the Templeton Community Design Plan and the county’s General Plan. It is not in a residential area

Across from Twin Cities Hospital is the logical location for this new state-of-the-art hospital. In this setting, patients can receive coordinated and integrated care for both physical and mental health needs.

Well-meaning people often acknowledge the need for a hospital but oppose the location — i.e., not in my backyard.

What if the people of Ventura, Santa Barbara, Sacramento, etc. said the same thing? Where would San Luis Obispo County patients have been going for treatment over the years?

Other people say “just make it smaller,” i.e. fewer beds, fewer patients.

The truth is that the county’s need is much greater (47 beds greater) than the proposed 91-bed hospital.

The proposed size is similar to other behavioral health hospitals in the state, which allows them to be economically viable to build and operate.

A new, modern hospital in the county will also have the added bonus of attracting more medical professionals and greater patient services.

The leaders and decision-makers in our county have an outstanding opportunity to take a major step in resolving the serious inpatient mental health care crisis in our county by approving this private behavioral health hospital in Templeton.

This need has been well documented by the county’s own departments and commissions.

The San Luis Obispo County League of Women Voters, Transitions Mental Health Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of San Luis Obispo County have all supported the building of this particular project in Templeton.

The new hospital will not cost the county a dime, but it will generate hundreds of good jobs, much tax revenue and — most importantly — it will relieve the county of the huge void in mental health care.

The residents of San Luis Obispo County are entitled to quality mental health care now; they have been waiting long enough.