Sonoma County overhauling mental health services for those in crisis
From the outside, 3322 Chanate Road is not a bad-looking place. It’s a rather handsome structure, with a California mission-style red-tile roof and a low, single-story profile that sits unobtrusively atop a sloping wooded hillside.
But it’s entirely something else inside the building that houses the county’s psychiatric emergency services, or PES. The beige walls and floors, dreary hallways and cramped rooms invoke a frightful institutional feeling.
“I know how I would feel if someone pulled me out of my life and brought me here,” said Stephen Parsons, client case manager for the agency.
Parsons said there’s nothing welcoming or comforting about the facility, which is used to treat 4,500 people annually who suffer from psychosis, severe depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and co-occurring substance abuse.
Built as a remote tuberculosis sanatorium in 1938, the building has outworn its usefulness, Parsons and other county mental health officials say.
With an eye on delivering more modern and humane emergency mental health services, the county is gearing up for a major move in the fall to a new facility that could dramatically improve services for those in a mental health crisis.
“It’s really the first step in us trying to develop a one-stop behavioral health wellness campus,” said Michael Kennedy, director of county mental health services.
That goal begins with the relocation of psychiatric emergency services to a west Santa Rosa business park at Sebastopol Road and Corporate Center Parkway. The space, rented in a development called The Lakes, will allow the county to more than double the size of its PES center from 7,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet. The county also hopes to lease more space in the future for outpatient behavioral health services, Kennedy said.
The new location will be more visible in the community, closer to the Sam Jones homeless shelter on Finley Avenue and easier for west Sonoma County residents to reach, he said. Many of the people who use the agency’s services are low-income residents with Medi-Cal or lack health insurance.
Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a vocal advocate of public mental health services, said the move will help move the county away from a traditional PES model to crisis stabilization. That allows the county to focus more on immediately treating a mental health crisis rather than waiting until patients arrive at whatever inpatient psychiatric hospital receives them.
“We want to also, of course, improve treatment,” she said. “We will have the capacity to house both voluntary and involuntary clients separately. Also we’ll will have a section only for minors, which is really important — to have minors separate from adults in terms of treatment.”
The new facility also will allow voluntary and involuntary patients to be kept separate, and existing crisis stabilization services will be augmented and provided in specialized areas.
Mental health officials said the current psychiatric emergency services model was developed when the unit was attached to a 30-bed acute inpatient psychiatric unit. PES was the admitting unit for the psychiatric hospital. But the county inpatient unit was shut in 2007, one year before Memorial Hospital closed the last remaining inpatient psychiatric hospital on Fulton Road.
Though a new for-profit inpatient psychiatric hospital reopened in 2013 at the Fulton Road location, it’s a freestanding facility, which means it is not tied to a general acute care hospital and therefore does not qualify for Medi-Cal reimbursement for adult patients.