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Tentative deal could restore psychiatric emergency services back at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside

San Diego Union-Tribune - 8/28/2019

Aug. 28--A tentative agreement between Tri-City Medical Center and San Diego County would build a new stand-alone psychiatric hospital to replace the units that the Oceanside medical provider shuttered in 2018, causing a significant lack of services for those with urgent mental health needs in coastal North County.

Word of the deal surfaced suddenly Tuesday afternoon in a joint statement released by county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and state Rep. Tasha Boerner Horvath, who said they will suspend a request for a state audit of the public health care district that runs Tri-City. The audit request was to be made before the state's Joint Legislative Audit Committee on Wednesday.

"This agreement represents a shared commitment between both parties and we applaud the County of San Diego and Tri-City for working together to find common ground and address the needs of the people of San Diego County," the joint statement said.

The details of the agreement, however, remained fuzzy. Officials for both organizations said the fine details of a memorandum of understanding between the county and Tri-City are being finalized in preparation for release on Friday with the rest of the docket items for consideration by the County Board of Supervisors during their regular meetings next week.

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Tri-City board chair Leigh Anne Grass and board member Rocky Chavez were in Sacramento Tuesday, meeting with audit committee members in preparation for Wednesday's hearing when news of the deal was released. While both said they could not provide full details of the agreement, they did say that it involves building a new, stand-alone psychiatric hospital on Tri-City's Oceanside campus, rather than refurbishing the units that the Tri-City board shut down in August and October of 2018.

Building a new unit, Grass said, was always a key priority.

"We wanted to do it right, we didn't want to throw something together willy-nilly that would only last us a few years," Grass said.

Financial information was not available Tuesday, though Chavez said the rough shape of the deal is a "50/50 match" between Tri-City and the county. He added that the solution will not be immediate. Building a new stand-alone unit on the Tri-City campus, he said, would take one year to 16 months.

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It remains unclear how the county will handle the short-term need for psychiatric services in coastal North County. Though county officials announced in June that they intend to open a crisis-stabilization hub in North County that would offer round-the-clock services, including a location for law enforcement officials to drop off those picked up on 5150 holds, there has been no announcement of where that facility would be located or when it would open. Meanwhile, other local hospitals, especially Palomar Medical Center Escondido, have reported significant increases in the number of psychiatric patients they're treating in their emergency rooms.

Grass said Tuesday that it was work between Steve Dietlin, Tri-City's chief executive; Dr. Luke Bergmann, director of the county behavioral health services; and county supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar who deserve applause for the long series of negotiations that resulted in an agreement.

"All we ever wanted was a sustainable solution, and we think they deserve a lot of credit for finding it," Grass said.

If the board of supervisors approves the deal, it would also require a vote by Tri-City's board.

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