Health experts estimate one in five people in the U.S. are affected by mental illness.
As Santa Barbara County tries to help those with mental health conditions, some people are still being sent out of the area to receive help. Now Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria is trying to help bridge the gap by creating a crisis stabilization unit.
Dr. David Ketelaar, a physician at Marian Regional Medical Center, says the need for treating mental health in Santa Barbara County has become the perfect storm.
"We've had an increasing population, an increasing prevalence in mental health conditions and a decrease in the inpatient beds," Dr. Ketelaar explained.
Santa Barbara County has 16 adult inpatient mental health beds and zero inpatient beds for adolescents.
That means all adolescents that need inpatient psychiatric care, as well as some adults, sometimes have to go hundreds of miles away in order to get help.
As a way to start bridging the gap, Dr. Ketelaar is asking community partners in Santa Maria to help create a locked crisis stabilization unit inside Marian Regional Medical Center that would be the first of its kind in North County.
"A crisis stabilization unit is the first step in enhancing the services. It's something to do while waiting for the inpatient beds to become available. Generally, you work intensely with a patient for 16-20 hours on average to help avert their crisis or mitigate their crisis and get them back out in the community and sometimes avoid the need for an inpatient bed," Dr. Ketelaar explained.
The Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness says more partners like private hospitals could help cut down the number of people that get sent out of the county for treatment.
"It's not just a behavioral wellness or just a private hospital issue or just a law enforcement issue, it really is a community issue so it's important to have relationships with all the different providers," said John Winckler, Crisis Services Manager for the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness.
This proposed unit would help those more serious cases like people on 51/50 holds.
The county has developed less restrictive beds for people in mental health crisis that includes two residential facilities in Santa Maria where people can spend up to 90 days in order to get stabilized.
The county has also started a pilot co-response program with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office where someone from Behavioral Wellness spends 10 hours with deputies to respond to mental health calls together. They hope to collaborate with Santa Maria police soon.