San Jose hospital to cut acute psychiatric care
Good Samaritan Hospital plans to shutter its psychiatric facility at Mission Oaks in Los Gatos. Photo by Julia Forrest.

    The pending closure of an inpatient psychiatric facility has the potential to worsen an ongoing mental health crisis in Santa Clara County, which has a severe shortage of behavioral health beds and services.

    Good Samaritan Hospital plans to close it’s 18-bed inpatient psychiatric facility at its Mission Oaks Hospital location in Los Gatos. It’s parent company, HCA Healthcare, has announced it will shutter those services on Aug. 20. The closure will potentially lead to an 8% decrease in inpatient psychiatric acute beds, exasperating the county’s ongoing mental health problems.

    There are about 211 inpatient psychiatric beds in the county—80 beds at San Jose Behavioral Health Hospital, 36 beds at El Camino Hospital, 29 beds at Stanford Hospital, 48 beds at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and the 18 beds at Mission Oaks.

    Uday Kapoor, board president of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Santa Clara County, said the closure could have dire consequences by creating an even greater shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds.

    “It was a shock to start with and then a lot of sadness because it just could cause a lot of problems for the community, which is already in a state of crisis because of the lack of the acute care for people,” Kapoor told San José Spotlight.

    According to the 2018 California Hospital Association’s annual psychiatric bed report, Santa Clara County has a little less than 13 acute inpatient beds per 100,000 people. It is short 960 beds to meet the needs of its residents.

    The pending closure comes as the county continues to wrestle with its ongoing mental health and substance use crisis. Local officials declared a mental health crisis at the beginning of last year, pointing to a record increase in suicides and drug overdoses, an inadequate number of beds in treatments facilities and the overuse of prisons for those in need of treatment. Across the inmate population alone, as of Tuesday about 23%, or 687 of the 2,988 incarcerated individuals, have a mental illness.

    The Mission Oaks facility provides services to patients who need 24-hour treatment or medically supervised care for chemical dependency detox. It is also one of only four facilities in the county that accepts both public and private insurance, with El Camino, Stanford and San Jose Behavioral Health hospitals being the other three. The county does not accept psychiatric patients with private insurance and health care providers such as Kaiser Permanente only accept psychiatric patients who are members within its system.

    Good Samaritan said it could no longer find qualified staff for the behavioral health unit to enable it to stay open.

    “Good Samaritan has done everything in its power to staff the behavioral health unit, including a telehealth option,” a hospital spokesperson told San José Spotlight. “Unfortunately, in the post-pandemic health care ecosystem, we can’t find qualified staffing for this unit. Staffing shortages are not unique to Good Samaritan and are a national problem.”

    Good Samaritan is also closing its Mission Oaks Pediatric Intensive Care Unit because the department has treated fewer patients in recent years.

    Retired state Sen. Jim Beall, who spearheaded the passage of numerous mental health reform bills, said the closure of the Mission Oaks psychiatric unit not only has the potential to overburden other facilities in the area, but it also puts more responsibility on Santa Clara County.

    “The county is going to bear the burden of the response because they’re the mental health provider of last resort,” Beall told San José Spotlight. “It’s going to result in a major fiscal problem with the county if we lose those beds.”

    Michael Fitzgerald, a consultant, advisor for NAMI and the former executive director at El Camino mental health and addiction services, said Good Samaritan should consider alternatives, if possible, before closing Mission Oaks.

    “This is an opportunity, given this crisis, to bring together organizations, the county, other hospital providers and others in the community, to engage in a substantive or important discussion on how to address these unmet needs,” Fitzgerald said.

    If the hospital sticks to its Aug. 20 closure of Mission Oaks, the psychiatric licenses that belong with the hospital will also end if management doesn’t consider other behavioral health uses.

    State Sen. Dave Cortese said his office is exploring options the state has to help, but it remains unclear.

    “To lose any more (psychiatric beds) is a big blow,” Cortese told San José Spotlight. “It really takes us in exactly the wrong direction… It should be everybody’s concern. And certainly, we will continue to lean in and try to figure out what we can do as a state to intervene in the situation.”

    Contact Julia Forrest at [email protected] or follow @juliaforrest35 on Twitter.

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