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L.A. County opens mental health urgent care center near Olive View

August 10, 2011 |  6:26 pm

The new county-run mental health urgent care center that opened near Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar on Wednesday is expected to relieve crowding at the hospital’s emergency room and expand outpatient treatment for the mentally ill across the San Fernando Valley.

The $10.8-million center is the third that county officials have helped open in recent years, including facilities east of downtown near Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center and on the Westside near Brotman Medical Center.

Olive View's psychiatric emergency room has a dozen beds, its psychiatric ward 32 beds, and they are often busy, officials said.

Zev The psychiatric emergency room sees 5,000 to 6,000 patients a year, about half of whom come in search of prescriptions or other non-critical care and would be better served in an urgent care, said to Dr. Alex Kopelowicz, the hospital's chief of psychiatry.

“We’re decompressing the ER,” Kopelowicz said as he toured the new facility shortly before the opening ceremony Wednesday afternoon. “It should also make it easier to transition people to ongoing care and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks.”

The mission-style building, complete with Spanish tile, specially commissioned sculptures and paintings, was paid for with $6.65 million from the county’s general fund and $4.15 million in state income tax money gathered under the Mental Health Services Act, or Prop 63.

Dr. Mitchell Katz, the county’s chief of health services, said the building shows mental health care is a priority for county leaders.

“When you’re trying to heal someone, you have to ask what the surrounding is that they’re in,” he said, a beautiful building such as the new center or one “where you’re just going to be shoved aside.”

Los Angeles County Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich, whose district includes the hospital, and Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents much of the San Fernando Valley, were both on hand Wednesday to praise the new center.

“It could not have come at a better time,” Yaroslavsky said, citing the economic downturn of recent weeks that has many on edge. "As the economic pressures build, as the uncertainty increases and people lose their jobs, people become unstable and we are seeing demand increase for our services.”

In June, a psychiatric patient at Olive View jumped from a sixth-floor window. The California Department of Public Health was still investigating the incident this week, according to a spokesman for the Department of Health Services.

Last year, county officials investigated allegations that Olive View social workers were receiving gifts from nursing home staff in exchange for referring patients to their facilities.

Earlier last year, state officials investigated the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit after The Times reported that nurses were running a makeshift beauty salon there. Investigators later concluded that doctors and staff had been treating seriously ill babies who should have been transferred to a better-equipped hospital. Olive View officials hired additional staff and gained approval from the state to once again treat seriously ill babies.


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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photos: (top) The new Olive View Community Mental Health Urgent Care Center in Sylmar. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

(bottom) Robin Kay, chief deputy director at Los Angeles County's Department of Mental Health, left, shows L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky around the observation room at the new mental health urgent care center on Wednesday. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times