The Mercury News Weekend
Youth mental health facility is much needed
It's one of Santa Clara County parents' worst nightmares. A child develops a mental health problem to such a degree that treatment at a psychiatric hospital becomes necessary.
San Jose Behavioral Health has a limited number of beds for 14- to 17-year-olds. But in a county with an estimated 1,000 or more youth requiring inpatient psychiatric care every year, more — much more — is needed.
The only alternative for parents today is sending children with serious mental health issues to facilities in neighboring areas, including Concord, Vallejo or even Sacramento. Shipping vulnerable children hours away from their families and regular health care providers is counterproductive. Kids need the support of their family and friends. Parents under pressure shouldn't have to drive long distances to visit their children. It's hard enough dealing with a child's mental health issues.
At long last, help is on the way for county youth requiring psychiatric care. After nine years of planning, the county broke ground Wednesday on the 207,000-squarefoot Adolescent Psychiatric Facility and Behavioral Health Services Center on the grounds of the county-run Valley Medical Center. The facility, scheduled to be completed in fall 2025, will provide inpatient as well as emergency and outpatient psychiatric services for children, adolescents and adults.
It's difficult to overstate the need. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death between the ages of 10-24. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2021, 29% of students experienced poor mental health, 22% seriously considered attempting suicide, and 10% attempted suicide. Those numbers led the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to recommend regular anxiety screenings for youth ages 8 to 18 and regular depression screenings for adolescents ages 12 to 18.
County Supervisor Joe Simitian, chair of the Board of Supervisors' Health and Hospital Committee, has been the driving force behind the new $422 million facility. He found it unacceptable in 2014 when he learned a county as wealthy as Santa Clara County had at the time no beds for youth with serious mental health issues. Not at El Camino nor Kaiser hospitals. Nor Lucile Packard and Stanford hospitals.
When completed, the facility will have on the third floor 21 beds for patients ages 13 to 17 and 14 beds for children 12 years and younger. The second floor will have 42 beds for adults. The first floor will include space for emergency psychiatric services, including separate secured ambulance bays for minors and adults, taking pressure off of Valley Medical Center's busy emergency room.
County Executive Jeff Smith expects that revenues generated from caring for patients will pay for the bonds issued to construct the facility.
Research shows treatment for mental illness works. Medical professionals say that three out of every four people with serious mental illnesses can be successfully treated. But they also say that far too many youth with mental illnesses do not receive the services they need. Santa Clara County youth deserve a facility where they can receive help they need to manage their illness, overcome challenges and go on to lead productive lives.