Editorial: Santa Clara County children’s psychiatric facility is long overdue
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian speaks at the grounding for the Valley Medical Center's new child and adolescent behavioral health facility. Photo by Moryt Milo

    When a child has a medical emergency and is rushed to a hospital, doctors and nurses are ready. But if that same child has a mental health emergency, there is no hospital in Santa Clara County available to treat a minor.

    For decades the problem remained under the radar, until one day a friend of Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian asked him why are there no mental health inpatient facilities for children and teens in Santa Clara County. He was certain that couldn’t be true. Then he discovered it was and began working on a solution. That was nine years ago.

    At the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center groundbreaking last week for a new child and adolescent behavioral health facility he said, “That was undeniably wrong in so many ways.”

    That wrong is now being righted. VMC has begun construction on a 207,000-square-feet behavioral health facility at its San Jose campus. The new wing will have 77 beds – 14 beds for children, 21 beds for teens and a separate, secure section with 42 beds for adults. The child and teens portion of the facility will provide inpatient and outpatient psychiatric and medical care, emergency psychiatric services and urgent care. A skywalk is being integrated into the design to enable easy access to comprehensive medical services throughout the VMC campus. A parking structure is also planned. The project, slated to come online in fall 2025, is estimated to cost $422 million. The funding comes from the county’s budget and the state’s Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program.

    The need for these services has never been greater. Mental health issues among children and teens have  exploded since the pandemic and many have not returned to school due to ongoing anxiety and depression. Adding to this urgency, are studies showing a marked increase in suicide attempts among teenage girls. In an effort to tap down the crisis, school districts throughout the county are funding wellness centers and more counselors.

    Supervisors initially approved the new facility back in 2017, with a goal to be online by 2023. But construction setbacks halted the project and some policymakers argued it was too costly. Meanwhile, more than 600 children were being transported annually to facilities in Vallejo, Sacramento and Santa Rosa for care, Simitian said.

    “Separating kids from their families at one of the toughest times in their lives, that’s just hell on them,” he said.

    It’s important to understand what that hell means. Families must watch as their children are forced to travel hundreds of miles alone and in crisis. These transports are by ambulance, making the trip even more frightening. The children leave familiar surroundings and faces behind, and families are too far away to visit on a daily basis. This is an agonizing situation for any family with a child suffering from a severe medical condition. That human toll should be rectified once these services come online.

    But this will not be sustainable without an annual budget that maintains quality of care. Oftentimes, behavioral health services are the stepchild in a county’s health care budget. Supervisors Simitian, Susan Ellenberg, Cindy Chavez, Otto Lee and Sylvia Arenas are strong advocates and the reason this facility is rising from the ground. But supervisors term out and budgets change when economies aren’t robust. The first cuts usually occur in social services which includes mental health. Protecting children in mental health crisis must be priority now and in the future.

    It’s astounding to think that one of the wealthiest counties in the nation never provided mental health inpatient services to one of its most vulnerable populations.

    Simitian didn’t mince words when he told to me, “I just don’t know how any large urban county like ours can do without this kind of facility.”

    Indeed, and especially in today’s climate. Now let’s make sure this long-awaited hospital wing is up and running by 2025, and that children and their families receive mental health services in the county where they live.

    Moryt Milo is San José Spotlight’s editorial advisor. Contact Moryt at  or follow her at @morytmilo on Twitter. Catch up on her monthly editorials here.

    Comment Policy (updated 11/1/2021): We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by administrators.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.