In the past six months alone, Sonoma County has sent 319 adult and 60 adolescent psychiatric patients to acute psychiatric hospitals in other counties because no inpatient care exists locally -- and there hasn't been any for nearly four years.
But that will change in May.
In west Santa Rosa, hard-hat construction workers are steadily resurrecting a Fulton Road building that once housed a psychiatric unit operated by Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
The building is being fully converted into a 93-bed psychiatric hospital with inpatient geriatrics and adult units. It also will offer inpatient psychiatric services for adolescents, services that have been absent in the county for about a quarter-century.
"That's going to be really a huge benefit to have a local program for teens," said Michael Kennedy, the county's director of mental health services. "We're really excited about having that option."
Since the loss of the inpatient psychiatric facility, the county has tried to bolster its outpatient mental health services and improve follow-up care for those sent to hospitals outside the county.
But for several years, the missing piece of the puzzle has been a North Coast inpatient hospital for those in severe psychiatric crisis. These patients have been sent to facilities in other counties, including Marin, Napa and Sacramento.
"There have not been an adequate number of beds in the county for a number of years," said Deborah, a North Coast mother who asked that her last name not be used.
Her two sons, diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, have been sent to psychiatric facilities outside the county.
The oldest son has been sent to a hospital in Oakland and Modesto. The distance creates barriers for both mental health patients and their family members, she said.
"It isolates you even further ... it traumatizes you even further," she said. "I'm grateful that one is opening up."
Aurora Behavioral Health Care, based in Southern California, will operate the facility. Aurora's parent company, Signature Health Care, bought the property and has invested almost $4 million in construction and renovation of the building, work that began in June.
Aurora is a private, for-profit company with four facilities in Southern California, one in Chicago and two in Arizona.
The 1970s-era building on Fulton Road is being gutted as part of the process bringing it up to state and federal health care facilities standards.
About the only thing left of the old facility will be the single-story structure's walls, said Ken Meibert, CEO of the new hospital, which will be called Aurora Santa Rosa Hospital.
Aurora had hoped to have the hospital open early this year, but construction delays have pushed the opening date to about mid-May, he said.
The hospital also will have a specialized outpatient program for those who don't require 24-hour inpatient care. The program can accommodate up to 40 outpatients, Meibert said.