ESCONDIDO — Palomar Health is partnering with national provider Kindred Healthcare to construct a new 120-bed behavioral health hospital near its Escondido campus to help bridge a countywide gap in mental health services.
Palomar Health officials announced plans for the three-story, 90,0000 square-foot Palomar Behavioral Health Institute with Kindred last week, stating that they have long been planning a comprehensive expansion to their existing behavioral health services.
The institute will be one of over 30 joint-venture specialty hospitals operated throughout the United States by Kindred’s behavioral health partnership program. Palomar also partnered with Kindred to open a 52-bed inpatient health rehabilitation facility at Palomar Medical Center Escondido in 2021.
“To achieve the extraordinary in healthcare, the entire organization constantly seeks better ways to improve every part of the patient experience and to always provide the highest quality of care,” said Diane Hansen, Palomar Health CEO and president. “This partnership helps us reimagine behavioral health and offer support to so many people who need it, which is very important to our community and us.”
Officials say they plan to break ground on the $100 million project within the next 12 months and begin accepting patients in 2024. Around 200 people will be employed at the institute.
Rather than being routed to an emergency room as the first point of care and evaluation, Palomar officials say patients requiring intensive behavioral health services will be able to find a more appropriate and specialized environment at the behavioral health hospital.
Staff will provide emergency evaluations and intensive stabilization for those experiencing a mental health emergency, conduct an immediate assessment to work out a next-steps treatment plan and work with private practice physicians to connect patients to further services.
San Diego County currently falls far short of the state’s minimum recommended metric of 50 inpatient beds per 100,000 residents, with a rate of 23.34 beds per 100,000 as of 2021, according to a study by RAND Health Care and California Mental Health Services Authority.
The need is especially high in North County, where dozens of behavioral health beds were eliminated in the last decade. The region saw the 2018 closure of the Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, which held 18 beds, and the loss of a 22-bed unit at Palomar’s former Escondido medical center located in the city’s downtown when it closed in 2012.
Because of closures like this, many North County residents experiencing a mental health crisis requiring a hospital stay have had to travel out of the region to the city of San Diego or farther to access services.
“At Palomar Health, we’re committed to delivering the highest quality medical care while listening and responding to the needs of the community. We’re so excited to announce this new partnership, which will help leverage the District’s geographic presence to a regional level, enabling us to offer more care to the people who need it,” said Sheila Brown, chief operations officer at Palomar Health.
Palomar identifies itself as leading the way in behavioral health support services. According to Palomar spokeswoman Bianca Kasawdish, it is the only “safety net hospital” in North County to provide behavioral health services for Medi-Cal beneficiaries.
The hospital’s behavioral health system includes inpatient care, an acute behavioral health unit, a geriatric psychiatric unit, outpatient therapy, and a substance use disorder recovery center.
In 2020, the health care network also opened a mental health crisis stabilization unit at the Escondido hospital that can serve up to 16 patients.