ORANGE, Calif. — Be Well OC's first mental health and wellness campus opened in January in the city of Orange, and its leaders said it's already helping to transform the way mental health patients are treated in Orange County.
"This facility houses an entire continuum of addiction treatment and an entire continuum of mental health care co-located and integrated as one cohesive experience," said Be Well OC CEO Marshall Moncrief.
And for Janet Buck, it couldn’t come soon enough.
"My son actually from a very early age was seen as having some behavioral and/or other issues," Buck said.
Her son, Alex, has been hospitalized five times, most recently in November 2020.
"His behavior when he is in crisis or triggered can look like schizophrenia," she said. "I would consider myself to be on the higher end of folks who know how to navigate the system, and it’s been incredibly difficult."
The Be Well OC Campus features 93 beds and has the capacity to treat about 100 people per day, but one of the biggest benefits is its ability to treat any Orange County resident, regardless of their insurance.
"Whether you are somebody who utilizes the services at Hoag or whether you’re somebody who uses county services, this is a campus that can serve everybody," said Jeffrey Nagel, Orange County's director of Behavioral Health.
In the past, he said the public and private sectors have served their own populations well, but haven’t really partnered to serve the entire community.
"Unlike jail or unlike an emergency department, they can be treated by behavioral health clinicians who are trying to engage that individual as they sober up. 'Are you ready for care?'" Nagel said.
And for Moncrief, that’s really the crux of the issue. He said there are roughly 50,000 ER admissions related to mental health and substance use in Orange County each year, costing an average of $2,000 per visit.
"The vast majority of those do not need treatment in an emergency department," Moncrief said.
"As a community, we together are spending $100 million a year for the wrong care, in the wrong environment with poor outcomes."
When creating the environment and surroundings at this facility, Be Well OC leaders heavily relied on input from the mental health experts and advocates.
"They spoke into the color palette that we used here, some of the fabrics that we used or the furniture that we used," Moncrief said.
There is also a special intake area for law enforcement and ambulances to bring patients into a sense of calm.
"Our very first patient that was transferred here from an emergency department arrived to say, 'Oh my gosh, I feel like I can exhale here,'" Moncrief explained.
"Those are the moments where someone actually starts to either deescalate or accelerate their escalation," Buck said.
When she and her son toured the facility, she was impressed to see a gym, lots of natural light, and a welcoming vibe.
"[It was] that immediate ability to be seen as a human is how I can say it and not as a patient," Buck said.
It's a place that gives her renewed hope about future approaches to mental health that could change her son’s life and millions of others.
"Had Be Well OC existed, he would have had had a much better outcome and would have been healthier a lot sooner," Buck said.
"I do believe that Be Well is doing something very special."