SLO County to outsource psychiatric health facility | News | San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo County’s only low-income psychiatric hospital is set to change hands soon.

The SLO County Health Agency is finalizing a contract with an outside vendor to take over the reins of its 16-bed psychiatric health facility (PHF), an inpatient unit that primarily serves adult patients on Medi-Cal.

A final contract for the transition will go before the SLO County Board of Supervisors at a December meeting.

“Our hope is sometime in the summer [of 2023] for the transition to the new vendor providing the services,” said Interim Health Agency Director Nick Drews. “The state has quite a few PHFs that are run privately or by nonprofits and not by a county specifically. It has become more and more a trend.”

The decision to outsource the PHF is about a decade in the making, department leaders said New Times. They attribute recent challenges in running an in-house PHF to the local psychiatrist shortage.

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“It’s really hard to find psychiatrists who will come and live here,” said County Behavioral Health Director Anne Robin. “The county staff that worked in our unit are fantastic. They do a great job. It was the psychiatry coverage that was challenging.”

Robin added that recruiting psychiatrists for the PHF is especially difficult because the county competes with the California Men’s Colony and Atascadero State Hospital for the same doctors.

“For the psychiatrists who live in the county, many want to work for the two state entities,” she said.

And while outpatient offices can turn to telemedicine when needed, inpatient units require a psychiatrist to be on site at all times — putting the facility in a constant staff bind.

“We serve people in psychiatric crisis who need a very high level of care,” said Robin, “who come to us for treatment because of a danger to themselves or others, or who are unable to receive food, shelter and offering clothes. because of her mental illness.”

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One of the main benefits of using a third-party operator for the PHF is better psychiatric coverage, according to Drews. Most private contractors operate more than one PHF and therefore have more doctors on staff to deploy.

“Having a company with a larger pool to draw from is an advantage because it’s going to be a lot easier for them to find a psychiatrist than it is for us,” Drews said.

The transition puts the jobs of nearly 30 county employees at risk. Robin and Drews said the county will work hard to either connect the PHF workers with the new operator or find different roles for them in other county departments.

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The PHF is just the latest SLO County facility to turn to the private sector for services. In 2019, the county jail privatized health care after a spree of inmate deaths and lawsuits alleging inadequate care.

Earlier this year, the SLO County Grand Jury investigated PHF as part of a report that found deficiencies in the county’s mental health care system.

Robin encouraged the community to stay involved in the mental health conversation and hopes more people will join the field.

“I’m glad attention is being paid to the need for mental health services, because as we’ve seen, there’s a growing need throughout the community and the nation,” Robin said. “We want to encourage people who are interested in mental health to get into the field because we really need to rebuild our workforce.” Δ

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