Leadership: Building Toward Better Behavioral Health Care

U Magazine Spring 2023 - Leadership
Mid-Wilshire UMAG Spring 2023
Courtesy of UCLA Health

UCLA Health is expanding critically needed capacity by building a world-class, state-of-the-art behavioral health campus.

NEARLY ONE-IN-20 ADULTS IN AMERICA — 13.6 million people — live with a serious mental illness. Yet, in this past year, only 45% of them received mental health services. Perhaps the greatest challenge to receiving help is insufficient access to high-quality behavioral health care. In Los Angeles County, the need is acute. There simply aren’t enough beds: 13 psychiatric beds per 100,000 population, which is well below the public health standard of 50 psychiatric beds per 100,000 population.

UCLA Health is one of the few remaining providers of inpatient behavioral health care services in Los Angeles County, and we feel a responsibility to address this urgent need and redefine the future of behavioral health care in our region. That is why we are expanding critically needed capacity by building a world-class, state-of-the-art behavioral health campus in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles. An anticipated investment of $452 million will help tackle a long-standing regional need for additional behavioral health services. The mid-Wilshire campus is being designed to support individuals, their families and the broader community by significantly expanding access to a healing environment with a full continuum of behavioral health services.

The new location will be on the site of the former Olympia Medical Center, which closed in 2021 and the campus acquired by UCLA Health. The UC Board of Regents this past November approved design plans for the 170,000-square-foot facility; construction is planned to begin in 2024, and the project is expected to be completed by spring 2026.

The new hospital will meet the state’s highest standards for acute psychiatric hospital buildings and will include comprehensive behavioral health care services for adult, geriatric, child, adolescent and intensive care patients, as well as crisis care. In addition, an adjacent medical office building will be renovated to expand, relocate and optimize outpatient behavioral health programs and clinical research and education programs associated with the licensed neuropsychiatric hospital and dedicated psychiatric emergency services.

This expansion comes at a pivotal moment, as we conclude the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for adult and children’s mental health services is growing. There are troubling reports that a growing percentage of youths are experiencing anxiety and depression (see “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” page 26), and access to services is challenging, especially for California’s children.

As part of our effort to address these critical issues, we have worked for the past two years with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health to expand the age range of Medi- Cal patients we are able to treat as inpatients. Historically, Medi-Cal only covered hospitalization of patients younger than 21; now, as of October 2022, UCLA Health is able to provide inpatient treatment to Medi-Cal patients of all ages. This is a major milestone in our ongoing quest for greater health equity, diversity and inclusivity.

UCLA Health looks forward to expanding mental health capacity to better serve Los Angeles and the surrounding region. The mid-Wilshire behavioral health campus is an extension of that commitment to our community.

Johnese Spisso, MPA

Johnese Spisso, MPA
President, UCLA Health
CEO, UCLA Hospital System
Associate Vice Chancellor, UCLA Health Sciences