The City is one step closer to making the proposed Santa Monica Behavioral Health Center a reality after the recent approval of a federal spending package which includes $1.5 million earmarked for the project. 

Congressman Ted Lieu secured this funding for the project – along with an additional $21.2 for other projects in his westside district – as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was signed into law by President Biden on De. 29. 

“We are fortunate to have the continued support of Rep. Lieu in securing federal funding to address the behavioral health needs of our community,” Mayor Gleam Davis said. “This funding is critical given the national fentanyl crisis and our ongoing challenges with isolation coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and homelessness. We look forward to beginning the community engagement process.” 

The $1.5 million will be added to another $1.5 million allocated for the center out of the $308 billion state budget in 2022.

Santa Monica plans to use an existing City-owned building for the project and convert it into a 24/7 facility  that will serve as an alternative site for first responders to bring people in need of behavioral healthcare but who do not meet the level of crisis to be taken to an emergency room, psychiatric urgent care or jail. The center will have a focus on serving homeless individuals.

Santa Monica has partnered with Initium Health to help explore different models of behavioral healthcare and determine the best option for the city. This will include meetings with local leaders and subject matter experts as well as public listening sessions in the coming months. Initium will make recommendations to the City Council based on its findings by fall 2023. 

City staff first shared the concept for a local behavioral health center in May 2022, an idea which arose in response to the urgent need for mental health beds. 

According to a 2021 study by the RAND Corporation, the state of California needs approximately 50 inpatient mental health beds per 100,000 people. In Santa Monica, a city with approximately 90,000 residents, there are currently zero inpatient beds. 

The nearest mental health hospital is UCLA Resnick in Westwood, which has 74 inpatient beds. However, this hospital is in the process of relocating to Mid-Wilshire, closer to downtown Los Angeles. Although this move will allow the hospital to increase the number of its inpatient beds by an estimated 30 percent, it will be a farther distance from Santa Monica. 

At a county level, the Board of Supervisors recently unanimously passed a motion authored by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Holly Mitchell to put more time and resources toward addressing the mental health bed shortage. This includes hiring a consultant to analyze existing data and reports, performing a new analysis on current and future projected mental health bed needs and developing a comprehensive plan to fill those needs. It also requires a progress report be provided to the Board in six months. 

“I want our County to be prepared to serve some of the most vulnerable individuals who desperately need a therapeutic, professional, recuperative environment and have no means to get that type of service on their own,” Supervisor Barger said. “Despite our best efforts to build and contract more mental health beds, we remain thousands of beds short of our current need. We need numbers, data, and fiscal projections to ground our planning work for the years to come.”

Grace Adams

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...