SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - North County families living with mental illness will have to travel farther when they're dealing with a severe mental crisis.
Tri-City Medical Center's Inpatient Behavioral Health unit will suspend services indefinitely beginning October 2.
Oceanside residents Diane and Michael Bagby have a 39-year-old son who suffers from schizophrenia. Their son, Michael, has been to Tri-City many times.
"You don't go there until you're at your wits end. It's one of those situations where your loved one has lost the ability to function," said Michael Bagby, who is also the president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), North Coastal San Diego County.
The Bagbys’ son spent a month in the unit after a suicide attempt.
"When they finished with him, he had a whole complete change of his medicines and he was so much better, and it took him a few months to come back, but he was back, and he was much, much better," said Diane Bagby, who is also on the NAMI board.
In a June 27 press release, the hospital said, in part, that the transition "addresses operational challenges associated with significant structural modifications required to meet updated federal regulations related to the environment of care. Aging facility challenges, coupled with the shortage of mental health professionals across the country, have spurred many hospitals to close or transition services to outpatient settings."
The press release went on to say, "Currently, outpatient services provided through Tri-City Healthcare District treat more than three times as many mental health patients as are treated in the inpatient BHU on a typical day."
The Bagbys said it’s a decision that will hurt countless families.
"I've never known a person who is severely mentally ill, who has 5150, ever just walk into an outpatient clinic. This is, sadly, reminiscent of all the closings of the mental hospitals in opening up mental health facilities that ended up treating the ‘worried well’ in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. They released them all from hospitals and they never showed up at these clinics, so that's why we have this homeless problem today," said Diane Bagby.
Patients will be taken to Palomar Hospital in Escondido or San Diego County Mental Health off of Rosecrans Street. Patients categorized as 5150 are often transported by police.
"People in law enforcement are very worried about this because they are going to have to leave the cities that they are sworn to protect for probably a minimum of 5 to 6 hours, as they drive them down to San Diego near Rosecrans," said Diane, who added that each year, there are roughly 3,500 code 5150 calls from Oceanside, Carlsbad and Vista.
"It is truly a county wide event," said Michael.
There is talk of setting up crisis units elsewhere, but nothing is definite.
"They're trying to develop crisis stabilization units along the 78 freeway, but it's still in the planning stage. At this point, nobody has come to the surface and frankly, we don't know where they are going," said Michael.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is expected to meet with hospital leaders and other mental health agencies to try to come up with a solution during a meeting on October 1.