PUBLISHED: December 22, 2022 at 4:30 p.m. | UPDATED: December 22, 2022 at 4:31 p.m.
WATSONVILLE — Mental health struggles and rates of substance-use disorder have been dramatically escalating for more than two years in Santa Cruz County. But as local behavioral health professionals work to meet the needs of the moment, they have also scored a major assist from state authorities looking to make an impact on an issue that extends beyond county lines.
Encompass Community Services, the county’s largest community-based behavioral health and human services provider, recently announced it has been awarded more than $9 million in state funds that will support continued development of a new South County behavioral health center.
Encompass representatives say the new Sí Se Puede Behavioral Health Center, soon to be built in Watsonville, will expand the county’s substance-use disorder treatment capacity specifically within the 18-25 year old age group known as “transition-age youth.” According to an Encompass release, the new facility will include seven new residential substance-use disorder treatment beds specifically for the transition-age cohort and 30 residential treatment beds in total. There will also be 106 annual outpatient treatment slots available and the center will have capacity to serve an estimated 1,300 community members annually.
“Encompass has long dreamed of building a bright, new behavioral health center in Watsonville to reduce barriers to treatment and make personalized, high-quality behavioral health care accessible to everyone in our community,” said Encompass CEO Monica Martinez in the release. “This award provides the vital investment needed to break ground on the project next year and brings us significantly closer to realizing our full fundraising goal.”
The funding was announced the very same day Santa Cruz behavioral health professionals shared an annual report detailing a surge in acute drug-related deaths this year. Overdoses and deaths stemming from the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl in younger demographics were of notable concern to several local agencies.
From January 2020 to September 2022, 19 individuals in the 20s age group, 33 in their 30s, 19 in their 40s and 14 in their 50s died as a result of fentanyl use, according to Stephany Fiore from the County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office. The figure dropped to six for teens and eight for those in their 60s.
Local data also illustrates a high concentration of drug overdoses has been occurring in the cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville.
At the same time, it is glaringly apparent to local officials that there is an inpatient bed shortage – both for youth and adults – as identified in a recent report from the county’s Criminal Justice Council and a presentation to the county Board of Supervisors earlier this month.
But a direct response to these issues is also well underway. Similar to the project in Watsonville, the county supervisors recently approved the purchase of a two-story, 30,220-square-foot facility in Live Oak that will offer 16 residential treatment beds for youth suffering a behavioral health crisis.
State officials have also recognized the need for increased capacity.
Funding for the center in Watsonville is part of a $480.5 million package from California’s Master Plan for Kids’ Mental Health, which invested in 54 behavioral health projects this cycle. All funded projects aim to construct new facilities that will provide mental and behavioral health care for transition-age youth.
“This funding will support critical mental health and substance use disorder treatment facilities that have committed to serving the diverse range of children and youth covered by Medi-Cal,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom in a statement.
Encompass has also partnered with nonprofit developer MidPen Housing to include a 72-unit affordable housing development on the forthcoming health campus.
The entire campus project is estimated to cost $13 million and while this new grant money won’t get the project to its ultimate fundraising goal, officials are now confident they will break ground and begin construction sometime next year.
To learn about the project, visit sisepuedecenter.org.