With opening of youth unit, Aurora mental health facility fully online

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[caption id="attachment_74181" align="alignright" width="360"] Aurora campus on Fulton Road[/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- At long last, Santa Rosa and the surrounding region has a full-scale acute care psychiatric hospital that health officials said is meeting a significant need for a wide array of patients.

Aurora Santa Rosa Hospital, the long-anticipated 95-bed facility on Fulton Road, last week said its adolescent unit was officially opened, thereby putting the final touches on the hospital that was purchased in 2009 and remodeled over the last four years.

Last summer, the hospital partially opened with its adult unit and then later its senior unit. With the 19-bed adolescent unit now fully operating, Sonoma County and much of the North Coast will benefit from having a service that hasn’t been available locally since the 1980s, health officials said.

“It took no time at all to get a few patients in there,” said David Drum, director of business development for Aurora, referring to the adolescent unit, which had already seen 15 patients as of last week.

The newly opened adolescent unit at Aurora Santa Rosa restores a service not available in the county since 1985, when CPC Redwoods Psychiatric Hospital, a private, for-profit 80-bed facility that was housed in the same building as Aurora is now at 1287 Fulton Rd, closed its doors. Adult psych services were available in Sonoma County through 2009, which is when St. Joseph Health stopped operating the same Fulton Road facility. Sutter Health shuttered its psych services in 2008. In late 2009, Aurora's parent company, Corona-based Signature Healthcare Services, purchased the 52,000-square-foot facility.

While the shortage of acute-care psych beds for all residents has been a significant barrier, the available beds for adolescents is particularly stark, and the North Bay is far from the only region contending with the issue.  

As of 2011, California has lost almost 32 percent of the total amount of psych beds since 1995, a drop of nearly 3,000 beds, according to a 2013 report from California Hospital Association, calling the decrease a “devastating drop.” Across the state, 88 total general acute care hospitals have psych units, with the total number of beds through those hospitals at 3,532, according to the hospital association.  The number of beds through acute psych hospitals and psych health facilities was 2,835, putting the total number of beds at 6,367.

For children and adolescents, the total number of beds across the state is 637, according to Sheree Kruckenberg, California Hospital Association vice president of behavioral health, though that number can be a bit misleading because of the way the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development reports its data. Children and adolescents are combined.

“What this total doesn’t tell you is there are less than 70 beds for children under 12 – across the entire state,” Ms. Kruckenberg said.

State-run facilities such as Napa State Hospital are counted separately, since beds in those facilities are typically not available to the public and most patients being admitted under court order.

With California’s population of more than 38 million, as of 2011, the state had an average of one psych bed for every 5,975 people, compared with a national average of 1 psych bed for every 4,879 people, according to the report.

“Experts estimate a need for a minimum of one public psychiatric hospital bed for every 2,000 people for hospitalization for individuals with serious psychiatric disorders,” the report states.

Additionally, across the state, 47 out of 58 counties -- including all but Solano in the North Bay -- have no adolescent or child psych beds, according to the report, and 26 counties had no inpatient psych services of any kind.

Until the opening of Aurora Santa Rosa, Sonoma County was among those counties, but the new facility begins to address a need that is only expected to grow, Ms.  Kruckenberg said.

“We have very few beds for any age group, but we really had a severe hole in the number of beds in Northern California, so adding that facility in that corridor was very necessary,” Ms. Kruckenberg said. “It helps to begin to meet the need as more individuals receive health coverage. We know we’ve see an increase in individuals with mental health issues accessing mental health services, and we expect them to grow.”

Through the Affordable Care Act, mental health services are now considered one of the 12 essential health benefits required for health plans sold through Covered California,  the state’s exchange established through health reform, meaning more patients will need psychiatric services, she said.

Prior to Aurora’s opening in Santa Rosa, all patients had to be sent far out of the county, with a handful going to Marin General Hospital’s 17-bed adult unit or further south into San Francisco or Sacramento or Vallejo.

“Every patient we’ve seen is in the county rather than being shipped out of the county,” Mr. Drum said. “It’s people close to home.”

The 95-bed hospital  has had 440 admitted individuals since the partial August opening, according to Mr. Drum. Of those, 48 have been over the age of 60. In the week that the adolescent unit has been open, 15 patients have been admitted; the rest of the patients have been adults, including 68 admissions to the outpatient unit, which opened in September last year. It only serves adults for the time being.

The hospital is now accepting all populations, though additional units for adults and seniors will be forthcoming, Mr. Drum said.

Michael Kennedy,  Sonoma County mental health director, said having the adolescent unit open fills a huge void.

“I would say we’re very happy that we have an adolescent unit in the county,” he said. “It’s going to contribute  to better care coordination for kids and their families. It’s hard when you have a teenager who needs to go even on a short 72-hour hold in Sacramento. Any of the other facilities are over an hour away.  It really puts a burden on the families.”

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