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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 22nd, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 30 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 22, Issue 30

Behavioral Wellness says there are gaps in the county's mental health services

By Taylor O'Connor

The Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness told Santa Barbara County supervisors on Sept. 20 that providing more beds for lower level mental health services will reduce the need for more intense, expensive care. 

“Gaps or insufficiencies can result in an overuse of higher care needs,” Deputy Director for Mental Health Programs Pam Fisher said during the meeting

A mental health services map depicts areas in Santa Barbara County that have access to mental health care.

The department needs 85 more beds to increase its capacity for lower intensity level mental health services to better serve the community, she said. When patients don’t have access to lower levels of service, acute care—the highest intensity level of medical support for psychiatric needs—can become overused and cause the county to spend more to provide care. Acute care costs more than $2,500 per client per night, whereas transitional housing, which provides on-site support and recovery for 18 months or less, costs about $15 per client per night, Fisher said. 

To reduce acute care services’ use, Behavioral Wellness wants to increase supportive housing services by funding development projects through sources such as No Place Like Home, a $2 billion state initiative dedicated to developing permanent supportive housing for the homeless population or those needing mental services. 

“We are always constrained by costs, but the department does the best job [it can] to identify funding,” Fisher said 

Behavioral Wellness Housing Services Manager Laura Zeitz said the department is looking into several grants that would supply beds for supportive housing services.

“We are tracking funding coming through the state that could help us with these projects and is something we meet about frequently to discuss,” Zeitz said. 

A lot of the projects include ongoing costs, which could cause problems if the department was granted one-time American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, Zeitz said.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he understood the frustration with the lack of facilities and highlighted the project’s importance. 

“If you’re looking at this from a hawkish budget eye, this actually saves us money. It comes down to the need that’s always going to be there and how are we going to sustain that support,” he said. 

Lavagnino said he wants to see further exploration of funding opportunities for these projects and sees the community as being supportive of investment in mental health services. 

“Santa Maria had both the Depot and Agnes facilities that brought much needed services to the city. As a testament to them and how they viewed these facilities, I did not get phone calls up in arms about the county’s jamming facilities in the community,” he said. 

Behavioral Wellness will return to the Board of Supervisors in October with a budget breakdown and any other needs Fisher and her team may have identified.

Weekly Poll
What do you think about a farmworker resource center in Santa Barbara County?

It's a great way to create a network of collaboration and reach people in need.
It's been needed in the county for a long time and should have been made earlier.
We don't have the funding now, but we should come up with ideas in the meantime.
We don't need it. There are plenty of resources readily available.

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