County addresses lack of mental health services with plans for new youth psychiatric facility

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The Santa Clara county voted unanimously Tuesday Nov. 7 to construct an inpatient psychiatric facility for youth at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose. Currently, there is no hospital in the county that has an adolescent psychiatric unit, according to Susan Flatmo, the district’s clinical services coordinator.

According to Supervisor Joe Simitian, who has led the effort to add the new mental health facility, nearly 20 children are currently hospitalized for psychiatric emergencies outside the county everyday. Students are referred to locations as far as Concord, San Francisco, and Sacramento, according to Flatmo.

“It’s better therapeutically for these kids to be close to their community when they’re in crisis — close to their family, their friends, and their own local mental health providers,” Simitian said in a press release.

Furthermore, because of liability protocols, Simitian said parents are often not allowed to drive their children and instead pay thousands of dollars for ambulance transportation. Once the child arrives, the family usually waits for hours until a bed in the emergency room becomes available for their child.

“This is about teens at risk of doing damage to themselves or others,” Simitian said. “This is about families struggling through the hardest thing they’ll ever face, and being torn apart at precisely the time they need to be together.”

Looking forward, county staff will prepare construction and operational plans for the facility, which will include up to 36 beds. According to Simitian, the facility, which will provide transitional and long-term mental health services for youth, has the “potential to serve hundreds and hundreds of families” each year.

Flatmo said that if students are at “high risk for acting on suicidal thoughts” they are currently referred to the El Camino Hospital Emergency Department, Stanford Hospital Emergency Department, and the Crisis Stabilization Unit in Campbell. At these three locations, psychiatrists and social workers assess whether a student should be supported in a psychiatric unit at a hospital or if a student should go home.

If it is decided that a student requires hospitalization, they will be referred to a hospital outside of the county.

Flatmo said she believes that students and families will benefit greatly by having access to a facility much closer to Mountain View.

“Currently, parents drive to Burlingame or San Francisco to visit their teens when they are hospitalized,” Flatmo said in an email. “This trek can be difficult for our families, and our aim is to be supportive of all students.  If there are closer resources that we can connect our students and families to if they need them, this will be a very good outcome.”

Sheli Yaskin
Sheli, a senior, is excited for her fourth year in Oracle. In her free time, Sheli loves to go on adventures with her friends, take her puppy on walks, and catch up on the news.
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