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Big Help on the Way for Valley Residents With Mental Health Challenges
Liz-Juarez
By Liz Juarez
Published 3 years ago on
October 21, 2021

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Mental health issues remain a huge problem for the Central Valley with data as far back as 2013 showing that our region has some of the highest rates of mental illness in California.

“It is loud and clear from our community and all the communities we serve from Bakersfield to Sacramento that there is simply not enough access for kids who have behavioral or mental health challenges to get the kind of care they need.  … The addition of 24 inpatient beds specifically for kids will be the first dedicated inpatient unit for children in Central California.” — Todd Suntrapak, president/CEO, Valley Children’s Healthcare

In addition, the Valley and the Inland Empire have the fewest mental health professionals per capita in the state.

To combat this need for more behavioral health services and mental health professionals, Universal Health Services has partnered with Valley Children’s Healthcare to build a behavioral health facility scheduled to open in 2023.

A subsidiary of UHS,  HealthLinkNow, has already initiated a telepsychiatry service pilot at one of Valley Children’s primary care practices in Fresno, and is taking referrals. 

Construction for the new facility broke ground last year in Madera and will be named the River Vista Behavioral Health hospital.

The president and CEO of Valley Children’s Healthcare, Todd Suntrapak, said that families often have to travel three and four hours for the services that River Vista will provide.

“It is loud and clear from our community and all the communities we serve from Bakersfield to Sacramento that there is simply not enough access for kids who have behavioral or mental health challenges to get the kind of care they need,” said Suntrapak.

Soon, they will have access to that care right here in the Valley. The addition of 24 inpatient beds specifically for kids will be the first dedicated inpatient unit for children in Central California.”

How Have Mental Health Services Fared in the Valley Since Pandemic?

Key findings by the Centers for Disease Control from an online survey last summer at the height of the pandemic found that one in four people ages 18 to 24 seriously considered suicide 30 days after taking the survey.

Usually, patients in crisis are transported to emergency departments or crisis stabilization units based on parameters such as heart rate and blood pressure or if it’s believed they have ingested something dangerous. 

Fresno County Behavioral Health Director Dawan Utecht said that the COVID-19 outbreak has increased the strain on local mental health services.

We saw it last year, we’re seeing it again this year,” said Utecht. “So that is a special focus right now by supporting hospitals who are struggling with kids that they have in their hospital emergency departments and assisting them with placing those kids as appropriate.”

Construction has begun on the 81,000-square-foot hospital. (VCH)

River Vista Offers an Array of Services

When fully opened, the new River Vista Behavioral Health will provide the full continuum of care says UHS spokeswoman Jane Crawford.

The facility will provide inpatient services for children and adolescents. For adults, a specialty of programs will be offered to those who suffer from co-occurring behavioral health and substance abuse issues. 

In addition, the facility will offer outpatient child, adolescent, and family counseling; and treatment for depression, anxiety disorders, and other common behavioral health issues.

Valley Children and UHS are also working to deliver a new psychiatric residency program as well as telepsychiatry services for children served by the Valley Children’s network of care.

UHS wants to expand to other practices in the healthcare network and then to other pediatric practices in the service area.

“Initially we are starting with one PCP office and expect to grow and expand from there — the referrals are initiated by the PCPs and submitted through their EHR by the practice staff,” said Crawford. “We expect the pilot to be successful and look forward to supporting patients with high-quality behavioral healthcare services in the months and years ahead.”

A Look at the New Behavioral Health Hospital Offer

Rendering of the new River Vista Behavioral Health Hospital set to open in Madera in 2023. (Photo via UHS)

The behavioral health hospital will feature 128 beds in a new state-of-the-art building, 24 of which will be dedicated specifically to children ages 5-17.

Spanning 81,600 square feet, the facility will have therapeutic environments that showcase calming color tones on the walls and incorporate natural lighting.

An indoor gymnasium and safe outdoor wellness courtyards for recreational purposes will be available along with intensive day programs and outpatient care for young adolescents, adults, and older adults.

Opportunities for Employment

UHS expects to employ at least 250-300 physicians, nurses, clinicians, mental health clinicians, and support staff about six months before the hospital’s opening.

The new hospital facility will be owned and operated by UHS as an independent hospital open to all members of the community.

River Vista Behavioral Hospital Information

To learn more, visit their website rivervistabh.com 

Gov. Newsom Funds Additional Health Services in California

The California Health Care Foundation in its latest report said that one in six Californians suffer from mental health disorders and one in 24 have a serious mental illness that makes it difficult to carry out major life activities. The foundation also found that one in 13 children experience an emotional disturbance that limits participation in daily activities.

Seeking to increase mental health services, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law four bills last year to help improve access to mental health and substance use disorder services.

Those bills include strengthening California’s mental health parity law, creating a system that would certify peer support specialists, expand community paramedicine, and make substance use disorder treatment more accessible.

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