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A collection of local healthcare leaders and politicians believe a new $40 million mental health treatment facility in Orange is the first step in a movement to “lead the nation in optimal mental health and wellness for all residents.”
Be Well Orange County, a public-private partnership between the County of Orange, hospitals and nonprofits, celebrated virtually the grand opening of its first campus, at 265 Anita Drive, on Jan. 13.
“This is a major milestone for Orange County,” Marshall Moncrief, chief executive of Mind OC, the 501(c) that operates Be Well, told the Business Journal during a tour of the new facility.
The 60,000-square-foot treatment hub is expected to increase access to services that combat substance use and mental illness, as well as alleviate strain on hospitals and emergency responders.
“We’re excited and hopeful that the campus will transform mental health and substance use care in Orange County, while helping lift people out of, or prevent them from falling into poverty, illness, isolation, incarceration and homelessness,” Doug Chaffee, vice chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, 4th District, said in a statement.
Still, the new facility is just one component of a system that is in development, Moncrief said.
About 20%, of people living in Orange County will experience a mental health disorder in any given year, according to a 2018 national survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“This isn’t the panacea,” Moncrief said.
“This can’t meet the totality of the need, so our message to the mental health community is: the community is coming, and we’re committed to building this.”
The new location is near the intersection of the Santa Ana (5) and Orange (57) freeways, about a mile from Angel Stadium.
Individuals in distress due to substance use or mental illness don’t do well in emergency rooms.
The chaotic environment of an ER can exacerbate these conditions, and most ER doctors aren’t trained to deal with such conditions, said Moncrief, who was previously a regional executive director of the Institute for Mental Health & Wellness at Providence St. Joseph.
By contrast, the Be Well site in Orange was designed to be “therapeutic” for patients and will be staffed with about 200 social workers, physicians, nurses and other staff.
Exodus Recovery will staff the mental health services, while Telecare will staff the substance use treatment services.
Emergency personnel can bring patients into an enclosed bay on the west side of the campus, which leads directly to nurse stations so that patients can be triaged for their “forward-leaning condition” at the time.
Included in Be Well’s urgent care:
• A sobering/recovery station—the first in OC—opened this week. The 12-bed unit serves as a 24-hour or less detox for patients incapacitated by alcohol or drugs, and is outfitted with durable beds that are low to the ground and easy to clean.
• A crisis stabilization unit, consisting of 16 adult beds and eight adolescent beds, which provides a calming environment to deescalate and stabilize adults and adolescents in distress due to mental illness.
Most of these patients will get connected to outpatient programs for continued care, though Be Well’s residential programs are available for those who need more in-depth care, Moncrief said.
Moncrief said the number of available crisis stabilization beds in OC is one example of an unmet need among the mental health community.
For many years, the County of Orange operated 10 such beds, which is “wholly insufficient” for a population of 3.2 million, he said.
Today there are about 50 such beds, including 24 new beds at the Be Well site in Orange.
“We’re starting to get something of a network of these crisis beds,” Moncrief said.
“A goal of ours is creating a system that helps direct law enforcement and emergency services to where those open crisis beds are.”
The therapeutic design of the facility is even more apparent on the second and third floors, which host 7- to 14-day and 30-day programs for both substance and mental disorders, Moncrief said.
The facility is largely decorated and furnished in a color palette of warm creams, tans and blues, with scenic paintings and views of the outdoors.
Residents—separated into four groups by treatment type and length of stay—have access to individual living rooms, kitchens and outdoor patios. Most will share a bedroom for two with a private bathroom.
Moncrief described the environment as “in-patient, psych-level safe, but it feels like you’re in a respectable place.”
Residents also have access to a gym, lounge areas and classroom space on the first floor.
Though residents will generally mingle with others in their program, Moncrief said the building is set up in a way so that “we can show the person in [a lower] level of care what the next step looks like.”
In addition, classrooms and offices on the first floor will provide spaces for community meetings and the co-location of support services.
For example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Warmline, a free and confidential phone service that provides support and resources, will be at the campus.
An initiative like Be Well “requires leadership,” said Richard Afable, who is president and board chair of MindOC, and previously served as chief executive of Hoag Hospital.
Businesspeople, politicians and other leaders in the community came together to overcome barriers—such as competition between hospitals, government bureaucracy and financial commitment without a clear return on investment—to make Be Well possible, Afable said.
The estimated $40 million cost of the initial Be Well location was largely funded by three groups: CalOptima, the community-based Medi-Cal plan, the County of Orange, and a collection of area hospitals—Kaiser Permanente, Hoag, MemorialCare and Providence St. Joseph Health.
Stakeholders invested “not only because it was the right thing to do, but because we think there is a business case for this,” he added, noting that reduced strain on emergency departments could be one example of a business case for a system like the one Be Well aims to create.
Be Well plans to build a digital system to provide mental health support, as well as two additional treatment facilities in OC. An Irvine location is expected to begin construction this year, and a third location is planned near the coast.
Afable likens the Be Well movement to the creation of a system to treat strokes in OC.
About 10 years ago, stroke patients “would be taken to the closest hospital, and the closet hospital may not be a center of excellence,” Afable recalled.
So, hospital and civic leaders set guidelines and established the stroke system, which calls for paramedics and ambulances to take patients with acute stroke symptoms to one of nine hub hospitals.
Those hospitals act as receiving centers for victims of stroke, offering sophisticated neurovascular care and have specialists available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Now every person with stroke gets the best care, no matter who they are,” Afable said.
“We knew there was a problem with stroke, and we, as a community, fixed it. We needed it for mental health, and I think now we’re on the right path.”