The two-story facility will replace the current old and inadequate behavioral health unit at the hospital, according to Michael Fitzgerald, executive director of behavioral health services at El Camino Hospital. He said the current facility was built to be used for 30 years, and it's going on 52.
"It's unusual for healthcare buildings to still be in existence that were built over 50 years ago," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said the hospital cannot remodel the old facility without being subject to new building requirements and huge costs. Upgrading the facility to comply with the state standards would require the hospital to increase bedroom and bathroom sizes, increase the number of sinks for hand-washing, and tear out all the old floors and walls.
Fitzgerald said the cost to remodel would be in excess of $20 million, and would bring down the number of beds in the facility from 25 to 15.
Because remodeling would cost so much and likely continue to fail the meet the needs of the community, Fitzgerald said the two choices were to rebuild the facility or close inpatient services.
The behavioral health facility is also attached to the old main hospital that houses its outpatient services. The old hospital cannot be torn down until a new, separate mental health building is constructed.
At 52,000 square feet, the new building will have 36 beds in private rooms — more than a 40 percent increase from the 25 beds in the current building. The beds will also be split up into sections based on symptoms. For example, the intensive care area will have 12 beds, and will be for patients with significant behavioral conditions. The women's specialty area will have nine beds, and will be designated to conditions like postpartum depression and psychological trauma.
Fitzgerald said designating beds for specific symptoms will have a positive effect on patient care, which can be tailored to the needs of the patient, and allows hospital staff to move patients to appropriate areas as their symptoms change. The building design will also be flexible enough to create five "treatment areas" to accommodate an influx of patients with specific needs.
But the improvements will include more than just new beds. Fitzgerald said the design philosophy for the building is to promote a healing environment and the feeling of safety. To do this, the facility will be well-lit and have meditation rooms and wide hallways with seating for family visitors, which Fitzgerald said will help minimize the institutional feeling of the building. It will also include outdoor patios and a large recreation yard that will be open to the public.
Another reason for the facility upgrade is that the community El Camino Hospital serves, and even the county as a whole, has limited or no access to quality mental health care. Fitzgerald said the county is at least 60 percent under capacity to accommodate the needs and space of psychiatric patients, based on estimates from the Treatment and Advocacy Center. What's more, he said the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center is constantly full, and many patients are sent out of the county due to a lack of beds.
On top of that, Fitzgerald said El Camino Hospital has a reputation for its quality psychiatric care. Unlike most mental health facilities, which focus specifically on severe and persistent mental illness, El Camino Hospital has inpatient services for conditions that, left untreated, can lead to serious consequences such as suicide. Fitzgerald said the El Camino Hospital Board and District Board recognize that the hospital has a responsibility to provide quality behavioral health care to the community.
The decision by El Camino Hospital to build the new facility contrasts sharply with other hospitals, where behavioral health facilities are on the chopping block, Fitzgerald said. For-profit hospitals see the behavioral health as a "money loser" that under-performs and is expensive to operate, he said. Not-for-profit hospitals, on the other hand, struggle to keep up with building costs.
But this is not to say that the hospital is going to incur losses just for the sake of having the expanded, newly build health facility. The hospital will contribute to its overhead costs and meet the direct costs of the facility and program.
"We do not see this as a money-loser," Fitzgerald said. "We will be looking for community support, but at an operational level we cover the costs."
The $50 million price tag is by no means the final, definitive cost of the facility. Fitzgerald said $50 million is a preliminary estimate, and is likely to change.
Construction of the facility is slated to begin in 2015, and will be open and ready for use in late 2017.