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A multimillion-dollar donation will allow Marian Regional Medication Center to develop a behavioral health unit and establish a crisis stabilization unit to expand mental health care, the hospital announced Wednesday. 

The $2.7 million building donation is from The Sierra Land Group, the previous owner of the Marian West campus, which will house the new unit. 

Santa Barbara County has a lack of mental health facilities, with the North County area having the fewest resources, meaning patients are often sent from Santa Maria to Santa Barbara for treatment. 

During an Aug. 6 Santa Maria City Council meeting, Dr. David Ketelaar, immediate past president-medical staff at Marian, outlined the hospital's plans to create a crisis stabilization unit, which would provide immediate care to those in crisis and take both voluntary and involuntary patients.

The unit would treat patients after they are cleared from the emergency department but before inpatient hospitalization.

Hospital officials also are considering the development of inpatient mental health beds, which Santa Maria currently lacks. 

During the meeting, Ketelaar said Santa Maria's lack of beds and the prevalence of mental health disorders has created a “perfect storm” where individuals in crisis end up in emergency rooms and are unable to get the care they need.

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Councilman Dr. Michael Moats said he was happy to see Marian moving forward on the establishment of mental health facilities within the city. 
 
Moats said when he worked as an emergency room physician at the old Valley Community Hospital, patients in the midst of mental breakdowns were put under involuntary 5150 holds and transported to Santa Barbara. 
 
"If we had a situation where people could remain in Santa Maria, we could have a skilled healthcare worker do a proper mental health evaluation to best determine what the patient needs, which might not be a 5150 hold.  
 
The ability of emergency room physicians to truly evaluate a patient whose having a breakdown is limited," Moats said. "[The behavioral health unit] might spare a situation where the patient has to be transported to the South Coast."

Marian Regional Medical Center President and CEO Sue Andersen said the hospital was grateful for Sierra Land Group's gift. 

“Considering our recent outreach to the community about the very urgent need for a behavioral health program locally, we are grateful that we can now move toward creating such a program to best treat those in need of this specialty care,” she said in a news release.

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