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Hospitals to pay Sonoma County to care for psychiatric patients

MARTIN ESPINOZA, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa Memorial and Petaluma Valley hospitals want Sonoma County to assume responsibility for psychiatric patients who end up in their emergency rooms.

Under a two-year agreement, the hospitals will transfer patients in mental health crisis to the county’s Psychiatric Emergency Services unit on Chanate Road. St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County, which operates the two hospitals, will pay the county $200,000 over the two-year period.

The agreement, which will go before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, is similar to one with Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital.

“It’s really a partnership to help both of us. We’re working together to solve the problem,” said Michael Kennedy, the county’s mental health director.

Kennedy said the funds will be used to increase staffing at PES, an around-the-clock psychiatric unit near the old Sutter Medical Center that provides crisis intervention. Kennedy said the funds could pay for another PES clinician or psychiatric nurse.

The unit can hold psychiatric patients for a maximum of 24 hours. During that time, patients are stabilized while mental health staff determine whether they should be treated on an outpatient basis or sent to a secure psychiatric facility outside the county.

Currently, Memorial and Petaluma Valley hospitals are responsible for providing psychiatric assessments for mental health patients who end up in their emergency rooms with a physical-related medical condition.

When patients require admission into a psychiatric hospital — and are either uninsured or have Medi-Cal — hospital staff must obtain authorization from the county to transfer the patient to an out-of-county psychiatric facility.

Kennedy said patients often must wait many hours before space in a psychiatric hospital is found, resulting in psychiatric patients necessarily occupying inpatient and emergency room beds.

“It will help Memorial and Petaluma Valley get people out of their ER so they can have more space,” Kennedy said.

Dr. James Neel, Memorial’s medical director of integrated care delivery, said the hospital has a positive and constructive relationship with the county, and the two sides often work together to “improve the health and well-being” of local residents.

“We approached the county with the goal of finding better solutions for supporting an important and vulnerable population: individuals experiencing behavioral health issues,” Neel said in an email.

“This new partnership will support the timely care of these individuals, ensuring they receive behavioral healthcare at the proper level and in an environment best suited for their needs,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at (707) 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.