In April 2023, the San Diego Union-Tribune presented the unmistakable behavioral health crisis in our county by following patients, clinicians, dispatchers, and police over a 3-day period.  Their reporting brought humanity to the callous trends of decreasing mental health beds, increasing wait times for services, and increasing suicide and overdose rates.  Their project is a reminder of the work to be done.

Lack of Facilities & Staffing are Part of the Problem

In 2021 Rand Corporation released the report “Adult Psychiatric Need Capacity, Need, And Shortage Estimates in California-2021.”  That report concluded that California is short approximately 4,800 psychiatric beds and that “hundreds of Californians in need of psychiatric beds are waiting in emergency rooms and jails for openings.”  

In June 2023, Chris Van Gorder CEO of Scripps Health penned an op-ed indicating the need for about 1,660 psychiatric beds in San Diego County which is over double the current number. 

Staffing and facilities will need to be top of mind in addressing our mental health crisis in San Diego County.

In recent years, the County of San Diego has significantly increased spending on behavioral health.  The County’s Behavioral Health Services department has seen funding more than double over the last 8 years to over $1 billion.  Importantly BHS is committed to “achieve the vision of transforming the system from one driven by a crisis to one rooted in chronic and continuous care and prevention achieved through the regional distribution and coordination of services, and integration with primary healthcare, to keep people connected, stable, and healthy.”  Indeed this is the necessary approach. 

County’s approach must be integrated with private behavioral health systems and strengthened with targeted philanthropy to ensure all citizens gain access to the care they need. 

Behavioral Health Care Programs Must Improve Population Outcomes

In July 2023, California State Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times lamenting that California has little to show for the billions it spends on many of its programs.  Commenting on mental health he wrote:

And while we spend more than $6 billion a year on mental health services, the state has very little information about which programs are working and which are not. Yet the Newsom administration has quietly opposed legislation to collect data and measure results. Bills to do so were introduced in 2021 and 2022 but failed to advance.” 

Programs in California and San Diego County simply make no attempt to determine outcomes at the population level.  There is no oversight or monitoring to ask why, despite best efforts and significant spending, we are not achieving results for citizens. 

This is the environment in which philanthropy is called upon for action.  We can see our neighbors suffering and we can see the potential of an integrated robust care system.  Certainly, there are many terrific programs being run by great non-profit organizations in our community.  Those who are achieving effective outcomes must be supported.  And where we can see great work in other parts of the world, we must bring that expertise to our region. 

Our Goal is a 20% Reduction in the Suicide & Overdose Rates in San Diego County by the End of 2026

Comments are closed.

Close Search Window