By Nick Welsh
It wasn’t exactly the proverbial “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” but given Santa Barbara’s crushing need for acute-care psychiatric bed space, it might have been the next best thing. In late August, executives of the county’s three major hospitals — Cottage, Marian, and Lompoc Valley — sat down with Santa Barbara County executives, including mental health czar Alice Gleghorn, to discuss ways to increase the number of short-term acute-care psychiatric beds, as well as some longer-term options. Nothing specific came out of that meeting. Another such gathering is planned for this November.
Still, the very fact that it happened is monumental, offering a glimmer of hope that care providers who traditionally have worked on their own might work in concert to meet a great, unmet health-care need. Currently, Santa Barbara County has only 16 acute psychiatric care beds where patients deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others can be held against their will. Those beds are provided in the Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF) operated by the county’s Department of Behavioral Wellness. Numerous grand juries over the past 30 years have bemoaned the county’s conspicuous dearth of psychiatric bed space; so too have elected officials and mental-health advocates. But never before have leaders of the major hospitals come together with government officials to do something about it.