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Santa Clara opens teen inpatient unit

With the opening of a new psychiatric hospital in San Jose teenagers in mental health crises now have access to inpatient hospital beds within county borders.

However, efforts to provide more comprehensive services are still ongoing.

On Feb. 7, an agreement with San Jose Behavioral Health (SJBH) was unanimously approved by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, making a 17-bed inpatient psychiatric unit available by August 2017.

The beds will be open to 14-to-17-year-old patients on commercial insurance, as well as those who are unsponsored and uninsured.

For many, the agreement is a crucial and overdue fix to a shortcoming in the Santa Clara medical system.

A report from the Board of Supervisors shows that an average of 20 adolescents each day receive inpatient psychiatric care outside county borders; some are hospitalized in far-flung facilities in San Francisco, Fremont,  Vallejo and even Sacramento.

Prior to the agreement, the closest available beds to a Palo Alto teenager would be at Mills-Peninsula Health Services in San Mateo.

The agreement with SJBH was not the first attempt to provide hospitalized care for county teens in crisis.

A preceding Request for Proposal (RFP) issued jointly by nonprofit EMQ Families First and the Alameda-based Telecare Corporation for an adolescent unit for similar purposes, was closed by the Board on Jan. 10. The closure occurred because appropriate budget requirements were not met, which forced the Board to close it.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who brought into question the scarcity of hospital beds for teens in crisis within county borders as early as May 2015, and has been at the forefront of the effort ever since, expressed that the partnership with San Jose Behavioral Health is “a good start” but only a part of the comprehensive solution he would like to see.

Simitian is currently conversing with several local health care providers, including Palo Alto’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Mountain View’s El Camino Hospital and Kaiser Permanente, who responded to a Request for Information (RFI) in April 2016 and submitted a joint preliminary proposal to provide an 18-bed facility for 12-to-17-year-olds at the even closer El Camino campus in Mountain View.

“I think what it’s going to take is a collaborative model that is a little more creative than the contracting process ordinarily accommodates,” Simitian said. “[But] if we see this as a shared responsibility, I think anything is possible.”

Meanwhile, the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors are also expressing concerns about the variety of services SJBH will provide.

A request has been made to provide a list of all medical services the new facility will offer. Among the discrepancies are concerns about teenagers who may require both physical and mental care when hospitalized.

Another concern is the fact that SJBH was the sole bidder who provided a proposal to the country’s request.

Efforts are being undertaken by the Board to assess if other potential agencies exist that can offer needy adolescents a cheaper and more expansive suite of services.

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