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Supervisors act to help kids in crisis close to home


On Tuesday the Board of Supervisors approved a $222 million state-of-the-art behavioral health facility that will house the first County-run inpatient psychiatric services for children and adolescents — “a critically needed part of the continuum-of-care for kids in crisis,” said Board President Joe Simitian.

“On any given day 20 Santa Clara County children are being hospitalized for psychiatric emergencies outside the County, some as far away as Sacramento,” said Simitian, who has pushed for the past four years to add inpatient care to the youth-focused mental health services in the County. “It's better therapeutically for these kids to be close to their community when they’re in crisis — close to their family, their friends, and their own local mental health providers.”

“Separating these kids from their families at one of the toughest times in their lives, that's just hell on them. I’m also worried that the specter of long distance treatment could deter kids and families from seeking the help they need in the first place,” said Simitian.

The limited psychiatric hospital capacity for children under age 18 led the Board to approve a motion by Simitian in November, 2017, directing County Administration to prepare construction and operational plans for a Child and Adolescent Acute Inpatient Psychiatric Facility on the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center campus in San Jose. 

“This is about teens at risk of doing damage to themselves or others. This is about families struggling through the hardest thing they'll ever face, and being torn apart at precisely the time they need to be together,” said Simitian. “This goes to the heart of community health and wellness.“

The County staff’s recommendation, developed with input from a variety of community stakeholders, was to replace a disparate set of mental health services at the medical center with a new two-story building that will include 24 beds for children and adolescents in need of acute inpatient psychiatric care (plus 6 for pediatric medical/psychiatric services).

“This has the potential to serve hundreds and hundreds of families annually, given that the typical patient stay in such a facility is just six or seven days,” said Simitian.

Four years ago, a constituent alerted Simitian to the need for youth psychiatric services with a simple question: “Why aren’t there any inpatient hospital beds for kids and teens in mental health crisis here in Santa Clara County?”

Simitian was dismayed to learn that each year, more than 600 young people were transferred from emergency rooms to hospitals outside the county for acute psychiatric care. If approved on Tuesday, the new facility will allow children and adolescents to receive the treatment they need closer to home.

County staff also recommended replacing the aged adult inpatient facilities by putting new adult inpatient facilities on the second floor of the new facility, with separate entrances from those serving children and adolescents.

Currently, behavioral health services on the medical center campus include Emergency Psychiatric Services and Mental Health Urgent Care, in the Don Lowe Pavilion, and Adult Psychiatric Inpatient Services, in the Barbara Arons Pavilion. 

Simitian said he was “surprised, but pleased,” that his initial referral – which focused on juvenile mental health needs – had also resulted in what he called “a clearly needed upgrade in facilities for adult mental health.”

The facility, which will replace the nearly 50-year-old Don Lowe Pavilion at a preliminary estimated cost of $222 million, will include:

  • A six-bed Child Inpatient Unit
  • An 18-bed Adolescent Inpatient Unit
  • A groundbreaking six-bed pediatric medical/psychiatric inpatient unit
  • A separate 36-bed Adult Inpatient Unit.
  • A Mental Health Urgent Care department serving children/adolescents and adults in separate, but adjoining, suites that could share resources such as professional staff, support staff, and storage. 
  • A Patient and Family Support Center, available pre-or post-acute hospitalization, offering individual and family therapy, medication evaluation, peer support, multi-family groups, integration with physical health services, and pharmacy services. 

Emergency Psychiatric Services will be relocated to a building with closer proximity to the Emergency Department.

The new facility will serve commercially insured, Medi-Cal, and uninsured individuals.  In addition to serving County patients, it is anticipated that the child/adolescent unit will receive referrals from Kaiser, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, El Camino and others, as appropriate, due to the lack of available community resources and high need for these services. 

Staffing for the new facility will be collaborative, using the breadth of community expertise in the mental health field to provide and connect with a comprehensive safety net, including preventive, emergency, acute, transitional and long-term mental health services for youth. In addition to County staff, key health partners in providing such services will likely include Stanford Hospitals, Kaiser Permanente, Uplift Family Services, and El Camino Hospital.

“This new facility is a significant capital investment. But we see it as an investment in our kid’s emotional wellbeing, as well as their futures,” Simitian said. “I’m pleased that access to quality mental health care, particularly for children and families in crisis, is a clear priority for our Board.”

Inpatient psychiatric care for County children and adolescents builds on previous efforts by Simitian to ensure that youth in the County have access to the mental health services they need:

  • Mental health services for teens on Medi-Cal in the North County through El Camino Hospital’s After-School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education® (ASPIRE) program.
  • Accessible and approachable early behavioral health care program at the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing (“Headspace,” an innovative no-wrong-door space for adolescents to seek mental health services).
  • The Mountain View-based Community Health Awareness Council’s “School First” program, utilizing individual, group and family counseling, teacher training and support, life skills and peer leadership training to keep North County at-risk kids in school.
  • The Youth Connectedness Initiative, led by Youth Community Services, aimed at providing meaningful connections promoting youth mental health.


Photo of a facility