Tri-City Medical Center CEO Steve Dietlin speaks during a press conference in front of the medical center on Jan. 15 to discuss a new inpatient psychiatric health facility. Photo courtesy Tri-City Medical Center
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New Tri-City psych facility to come in next few years

OCEANSIDE—The County and Tri-City Medical Center have officially approved their plans to build a psychiatric health facility on Tri-City’s campus.

The agreement follows a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the hospital and the County of San Diego approved back in September that outlined plans for a 16-bed inpatient behavioral health facility to be constructed on Tri-City’s main campus. As per the MOU, both the county and Tri-City would equally fund the new facility’s development with Tri-City contributing property and the county to pay for construction.

The County will contribute $17.4 million to build the facility.

Specifically, the County will lease the property where the facility will be built, construct the building and then sublease the building to Tri-City.

During the term of the sublease, Tri-City will operate the facility and repay the County 50% of the construction costs over time through lease agreements and services.

“It’s taken more than a year and a half to get here,” said Leigh Anne Grass, chairperson of the Tri-City Board of Directors at a Jan. 13 event celebrating the agreement.

In 2018, Tri-City decided to suspend the operation of its 18-bed inpatient behavioral health unit, a portion of which also served as a 12-chair crisis stabilization unit that helped to mitigate the number of people who needed inpatient care.

The hospital closed its inpatient behavioral health unit due to a change in federal regulations that required them to remove ligature risks — features that patients could use to hang themselves — from rooms. The unit had drop ceilings, which consists of removable tiles that hide pipes and other fixtures.

Both the cost and time needed to remove the drop ceilings was too great along with other needed renovations to the dated unit, so the hospital had to close the unit altogether.

The MOU between the County and Tri-City did not include a new crisis stabilization unit. Instead, the County approved a plan back in October that would open a crisis stabilization unit at the County’s Live Well Health Center in Oceanside.

Since its inpatient behavioral health unit closed, Tri-City has still operated outpatient services from its clinic in Vista. According to Tri-City spokesperson Aaron Byzak, that clinic sees more than 50 people per day.

“Our focus has and continues to be improving the continuum of mental health in our community,” Byzak said. “I feel strongly that this new psychiatric health facility in combination with what we’re already doing with our intensive outpatient behavioral health program and what the County is planning is an opportunity to improve the continuum of care. Our hope is that the result will be a significant improvement in the long-term clinical outcomes for our patients.”

After Tri-City’s inpatient behavioral health unit closed, Palomar Medical Center was inundated with cases that the Oceanside hospital would have previously taken.

Later his year, Palomar’s 22-bed facility will cease operations after selling the Downtown Escondido campus.

In the meantime, according to Palomar spokesperson Derryl Acosta, Palomar’s 12-bed geriatric behavioral health facility in Poway will be converted to serve adults of all ages. A crisis stabilization unit with double the capacity of Palomar’s current one is being built on the hospital’s new campus on Citracado Parkway.

Acosta said the hospital has been in discussions with the county about constructing a new inpatient behavioral health facility on Palomar’s new hospital campus sometime in the next four or five years, but nothing has been finalized.

The Tri-City psychiatric facility could take up to three years to open.

Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar were big supporters of the new psychiatric facility. They organized a Jan. 13 event at Tri-City Medical Center meant to celebrate the agreement between the Tri-City and the County.

“This along with a crisis stabilization unit will make getting behavioral health services in North County easier than the path to crime and jail,” Desmond said at the event.

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