OCEANSIDE – After years of talks and planning, Tri-City Medical Center’s new psychiatric facility is one step closer to fruition.
The city’s Planning Commission on June 13 unanimously approved development plans and a conditional use permit for the new 16-bed psychiatric care facility.
The facility will be a single-story building approximately 14,400 square feet in size located in a quiet area away from the hospital’s main campus on a 3.77-acre lot in the northwest corner of the hospital’s overall 35.57-acre property in Oceanside.
Talks about a new psychiatric care facility stemmed from Tri-City’s closure of its previous 18-bed behavioral health facility, which also served as a 12-chair crisis stabilization unit, in 2018.
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.
Since the entire unit had drop ceilings, which consists of removable tiles obscuring pipes and other fixtures, the cost and time needed to remove the drop ceilings was too great along with other needed renovations to the dated unit.
In September 2019, Tri-City reached a memorandum of understanding with the County of San Diego that outlined plans for the new 16-bed facility that both entities would equally fund.
With the plans approved, the facility is set to begin operating in late 2023.
Dr. Luke Bergmann, director of County Behavioral Health Services, said patients cared for in the facility would be categorized as severely mentally ill, including those with illnesses on the psychotic spectrum such as schizophrenia or with mood disorders like major depression or bipolar disorder.
Some may also suffer from substance abuse disorders, however Bergmann noted that would not be the predominant disorder treated at the facility.
Bergmann assured the commission the facility would be locked with full-time security. The only way patients would be admitted to the facility is through a transfer from a crisis stabilization unit or emergency department.
Patients will typically stay between five to seven days during which they will undergo intensive therapy and medication treatment.
“As they just don’t walk up, they will not just walk out,” Bergmann said. “A critical component of that discharge planning begins with admission.”
Bergmann also explained that everyone who leaves the facility will do so with an “ongoing care plan” and will be “transported to the next level of care.”
The building will be surrounded by a 6-foot-tall wrought iron fence, per city code, however commissioners requested the city look into elevating the fence height.
“We would like an 8-foot fence there,” said Commissioner Tom Morrissey.
Originally the building was proposed to have an emergency access driveway off of Waring Road, but those plans were removed just before the Planning Commission’s public hearing to approve the facility.
The removal of this emergency driveway pleased several concerned residents in the adjacent residential area who were concerned about traffic and other potential issues related to the driveway.