Corona-based Signature Healthcare Services has expanded to the Sacramento area with a 117-bed psychiatric hospital to help meet the substantial demand for care here, company executives said, noting it will be the first such facility to be opened in Northern California. built since the late 1980s.
“For every patient in Sacramento County admitted to the county for psychiatric purposes, there were two more patients admitted outside the county,” said Chad Hickerson, chief of the Northern California Division of Signature Healthcare. “In the past… five to eight years, the province has managed only 35 to 50% of the real need for psychiatric hospitals within its borders. I have another hospital in Santa Rosa, and about 40% of our admissions there come from this particular… region.”
Brian Jensen, a director of the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California, said his organization has long supported the development of the Sacramento Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, 1400 Expo Parkway and welcomed its entry into the market.
“Behavioral health services — pre-COVID and, frankly, with COVID — are the biggest challenge we face,” said Jensen, the regional vice president of the Hospital Council’s Sacramento-Sierra Branch. “Demand for (such) services has been rising for about a decade and a half now, so we are very happy with the extra capacity.”
Nationwide, there’s about one mental hospital bed for every 2,000 people, Hickerson said, but in California, that ratio is one bed for every 6,000 residents. He and Dr Joseph Sison, the medical director of the new behavioral hospital, said the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased requests for mental health treatment among individuals with mental illness and among those with both behavioral and substance abuse disorders. .
Sison, who has worked at UC Davis Health and other local institutions since 1994, said, “At UC Davis, for example, on any given day we have about 15 to maybe 20 patients looking for beds, and very often, many of them have to stay in the emergency room until we find a bed for them.”
Go to a hospital’s emergency department, Sison said, and you’ll see a similar scenario play out. Add to that the fact that the patients go to many rural hospitals in Northern California for the same services, and you begin to understand why this facility is so necessary.
Just as an acute mental hospital would not be staffed or equipped to treat patients with heart disease or cancers, Sison said, acute care hospitals are not equipped with the proper architecture, engineers, medical professionals and staff to treat patients who are suicidal or suffer with depression.
“(Hospitals) just can’t let them into the community because they have a huge risk of getting hurt or hurting themselves,” Sison said. “And so they just house them and give them a place to sleep until they can find a place.”
Before the Sacramento Behavioral Healthcare Hospital opened, there were three other acute care psychiatric hospitals in Sacramento: Heritage Oaks Hospital, 4250 Auburn Blvd.; Sierra Vista Hospital, 8001 Bruceville Road; and Sutter Center for Psychiatry, 7700 Folsom Blvd.
Heritage Oaks was the last to be built from the ground up, and that was more than 30 years ago, said Hickerson, who was the company’s CEO before joining Signature Healthcare. Building a hospital in California is challenging, Hickerson said, because a robust set of regulatory requirements drives up construction costs.
It’s just prohibitive, he said, for many companies because profit margins are so thin on service fees that it can take a long time for a company to recoup its investment and start making a profit.
Signature Healthcare operates 19 freestanding behavioral health hospitals in California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas, and the new facility in Sacramento and Santa Rosa Behavioral Healthcare Hospital form the Northern California Behavioral Health System.
While Signature Healthcare’s psychiatric hospital began accepting patients on Dec. 21, Hickerson said the facility is currently operating at 20% capacity. The plan is to ramp up staffing and capacity over the next six months, he said. About 150 people now work at the hospital, he said, but his team is adding administrative staff, nurses, technicians, therapists and doctors. At full capacity, the Sacramento facility will have more than 375 employees and suppliers.
Since Santa Rosa Hospital experienced a noticeable spike in teen demand, Hickerson said, the team there has shifted resources to meet that demand. And the Sacramento Hospital is preparing to meet the high demand from adolescents as well. However, both hospitals serve teens and adults.
The isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, video footage of violent events, threats to freedoms and many other stressors weigh on adults and young people alike, Sison said, and others are learning to live with psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. All too often, he said, mental illness isn’t treated like a real medical condition like broken bones or ruptured blood vessels, so people wait four, six, or even eight weeks to see a health care provider regularly.
This is problematic in a country where one in six adults suffers from some degree of mental illness and one in 25 suffers from severe mental illness, Sison and Hickerson said.
In addition to hospital beds, the new Sacramento hospital will have an outpatient treatment center where patients will have access to programs such as partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient therapy and telehealth services. The hospital offers a number of procedures, including electroconvulsive therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and infusion therapies.
Hickerson spent nine years at California State Hospital and ten years at California Correctional Health Care Services before taking leadership positions at private-sector psychiatric facilities. He serves on the board of directors for the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California.
Sison is a medical doctor who has held a board certificate in psychiatry since 1993. He has been a member of UC Davis Health’s teaching faculty in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences since 1994, and he will teach resident and medical students doing rotations at Sacramento Hospital.
Signature Healthcare has been led by Dr. Soon Kim. Kim is certified in general and geriatric psychiatry and has been practicing for 25 years. He is a member of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association, and serves on the board of directors for the University of Southern California School of Gerontology.