More Mental Illness Help On the Way under New County Partnership with UC San Diego Health

News Date

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer and the County Board of Supervisors voted today to pursue a partnership with UC San Diego Health to expand the ability to treat mental illness and drug addiction in the region. 

The proposal will provide new and vital inpatient acute psychiatric services at the university’s East Campus Medical Center, formerly known as Alvarado Hospital. As part of the agreement, an emergency psychiatric unit and a crisis stabilization unit will be established. This initiative will also add approximately 30 to 45 new psychiatric acute inpatient beds for individuals who are Medi-Cal eligible. There are currently 306 beds on site.

“The County teaming up with the experts at UC San Diego Health is part of our ongoing effort to address the region’s mental health challenges. This is another example of how we are making fundamental changes to fix a system that was neglected for decades,” said Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, vice chair of the Board of Supervisors. “This partnership means more beds to treat people experiencing psychiatric challenges, instead of spending the night on the streets.”

This partnership also better positions the County to pursue one-time infrastructure funding from Proposition 1, which was approved by California voters in March 2024. Proposition 1 reconfigured the Mental Health Services Act and approved $6.4 billion in bonds to build an estimated 11,150 new units including a combination of dedicated behavioral health treatment beds and supportive housing.

When implemented, there will be the capacity to provide inpatient care to more adults with severe, acute symptoms of mental illness in need of 24-hour observation and intensive treatment. In an inpatient psychiatric setting, adults can regain their functioning in a secure environment and establish an aftercare plan before transferring to a lower-acuity level of care. These services are available to residents who are either Medi-Cal enrolled or eligible countywide and includes diagnosis, care, and treatment of acute episodes. 

According to the staff report presented to County Supervisors, one in twenty people are currently living with a serious mental illness in the region. Among low-income households, that rate increases to one in thirteen people. 

UC San Diego Health and the UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry will provide medical oversight through this collaboration, as well as help the County establish a center of academic excellence in Behavioral Health Treatment for the residents of San Diego County. This hub has the potential to enhance behavioral health access and quality far beyond simply adding to the County acute care bed count. 

It will also help support the County’s efforts to grow the region’s short-staffed behavioral health workforce, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, pharmacists, nurses, healthcare administrators.. A clinical training program will be developed that can be used to prepare new County behavioral health providers in the future.

The County expects the partnership to result in increased enrollment in Medi-Cal, reductions in expensive inpatient hospitalizations, and fewer  readmissions.

The proposal was presented by County Supervisor Monica Montgomery Steppe. Read the entire policy here.