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State Says It Has No Plans to Close Hospitals : Mental health: Local officials’ concern over the Camarillo facility stems from a comment in the governor’s austere budget proposal.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Reacting to concerns that Gov. Pete Wilson could close Camarillo State Hospital, state officials said Thursday they are looking for ways to save money, but have no plans to close any state psychiatric hospital.

Hospital officials and members of the Ventura County Alliance for the Mentally Ill said this week they fear that Camarillo State Hospital might close, forcing the dismissal or transfer of its 1,800 workers.

The fears stem from a single mention in Wilson’s austere budget proposal that urges the state Health and Welfare Agency to consider closing one of California’s five psychiatric hospitals or one of its seven centers for the developmentally disabled.

“There is a dire emergency right now,” Dr. Robert Liberman, who treats patients at Camarillo State Hospital, told members of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

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“There’s the very tragic likelihood that Camarillo’s programs for the mentally ill might have to close,” said Liberman, who directs a UCLA research project there that involves improving antipsychotic drugs for schizophrenic patients. “We can’t do this research if the hospital closes.”

But while the state hospitals are extremely expensive, closing a hospital is not the cure for the expected budget shortfalls, said Stephen Mayberg, director of the state Department of Mental Health. This year, the state will spend $220 million on state hospitals that care for only 2,000 patients, including 487 at Camarillo.

“Rumors are rampant about what may or may not happen,” Mayberg said Thursday. “We haven’t ruled anything out. But I think that if we can come up with better approaches or strategies, I’d rather have better utilization of our facilities than less facilities. . . . There’s no plans to shut any hospital down.”

Instead, he said, the department more likely will look for ways to reduce the annual $100,000-per-patient cost of running the hospitals so that counties could afford to send more of their severely mentally ill patients to state hospitals.

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Such tactics may include allowing private contractors to offer treatment at the hospitals or persuading counties to send more psychiatric patients to the state hospitals. Increasing the hospitals’ patients, and thus income, could help offset the cost of overhead and treatment, he said.

Camarillo is one of five state hospitals, along with Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino County, Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, Napa State Hospital in Napa and Atascadero State Hospital in Atascadero.

Because Patton and Atascadero house patients who are committed under felony convictions, they must remain open, leaving the other three hospitals as candidates for closure, officials have said.

California also runs seven centers for the developmentally disabled, such as patients who are mentally retarded or autistic.

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Those are Agnews Developmental Center at San Jose, Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, Lanterman Developmental Center in Pomona, Porterville Developmental Center in Porterville, Sonoma Developmental Center in Sonoma, Stockton Developmental Center in Stockton, and Camarillo Developmental Center at the state hospital--the only facility that serves both types of patients.

None of these centers, however, are expected to close, said Dennis Amundson, director of the state Department of Developmental Services.

“Stephen Mayberg and I have been looking at the needs of our departments in the short term and the long term . . .,” Amundson said. “We would be proposing absolutely no change in Camarillo on the developmentally disabled side. We’d be inclined to continue using those beds. Camarillo provides services to our clients and does so very, very well.”

Care for developmentally disabled patients--$225 a day--is nearly as costly as psychiatric hospitalization, he said. But the state budget for those patients--about 6,200 of them statewide--is expected to get another $18 million when the next fiscal year begins July 1, Amundson said.

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As for rumors of Camarillo’s closure, he said, “They are probably as a result of past history. I understand there have been proposals in the past to close Camarillo. I’m sure those are carry-over fears.”


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