Behavioral Health Outpatient Unit to open at Marian, will support mental health crises

Jun 10, 2021

A new facility designed to treat people having mental health crises is opening soon at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria.

Once it opens, the Behavioral Health Outpatient Unit, or BHOU, will be available to patients 24 hours a day.

The facility will offer services like intervention, assessment, evaluation, therapy and support.

It will be staffed with specially trained psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses and support staff.

David Ketelaar is an emergency medicine physician at Marian. He said this unit is the missing link for treating people with mental illness on the Central Coast.

“We’ve done a worse job over time in our medical system taking care of persons with acute mental health crises and it’s because of a lot of complex reasons,” Ketelaar said. “But from the hospital’s perspective, we just need options for them.”

This unit is the first of its kind on the Central Coast. Ketelaar said it is even more important to get it up and running now, as the number of people experiencing mental health conditions has increased during the pandemic.

Without this facility, patients typically wait hours in the emergency department until they can be transferred to an out-of-county inpatient mental health facility.

Once the BHOU opens, patients may be seen as soon as they are medically cleared.

Ketelaar said there are other crisis units in the cities of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara that take patients voluntarily. But he said this facility is unique in that it can admit patients who are not able to make decisions about whether or not they need care.

“With those existing units in place right now, our holding situation in the hospitals has only gotten worse over the years, not better, because we need more acute care for the persons who are more acutely ill,” Ketelaar said. “That’s what this type of unit we are setting up will serve.”

Ketelaar said having this type of facility locally also helps patients connect with nearby resources for ongoing care after they leave the BHOU.

He said a minimum of 50 inpatient mental health beds are recommended to serve every 100,000 people. Santa Barbara County only has four for every 100,000. He said one out of every eight emergency department visits is behavioral health or substance abuse related.

Ketelaar said the facility is ready to serve patients as soon as possible but can’t open until it receives final approval from state regulatory agencies.

The hospital expects to open the Behavioral Health Outpatient Unit in the next several weeks.

For more information about the new facility, click here.