King/Drew to House New Emergency Psychiatric Clinic

Times Staff Writer

To ease the burden on county-run emergency rooms, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to set up a new center in South Los Angeles to treat psychiatric patients who are in immediate need of short-term help.

More than 40 psychologists, nurses and other employees will staff the new unit at the Augustus F. Hawkins Mental Health Center, a psychiatric facility at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center.

The center will allow medical professionals to care for up to 12 patients who can be treated within a day.

The center is part of a two-year, $7.2-million package approved by the board on Tuesday to help county psychiatric clinics and hospitals deal with a 16% surge in emergency psychiatric patients over the last year.


“What this does is provide more choices,” said Dr. Roderick Shaner, medical director of the Department of Mental Health.

The “crisis stabilization unit” will cost $3.8 million over two years.

The remaining $3.4 million will be spent on other programs such as improving follow-up care after patients leave hospitals.

The increased demand for psychiatric services, heightened by the closure of seven private hospitals in the last 18 months, has prompted doctors at county-run hospitals to frequently recommend that patients be sent to other hospitals.

At Hawkins, the clinic is so crowded that patients have sometimes slept on the floor and in chairs, officials said.

“We have a demand that far exceeds the number of beds,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

At Yaroslavsky’s urging, the board also asked health officials to draw up a plan for a similar treatment center at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar. The county already has a similar crisis center in Long Beach.

“I’d like to see something in every part of the county,” Yaroslavsky said.

Also Tuesday, the board voted to hire 45 prosecutors at the district attorney’s office and to beef up enforcement of building, health and safety codes in unincorporated areas.

Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley told the board that the new prosecutors would help his office rebuild some critical programs, such as the office’s gang division. Since he was elected in 2000, Cooley said his office has lost 142 deputy district attorneys because of budget cuts. The office now has just more than 900 attorneys.

The funding, $5 million a year, will also pay for a code enforcement section of four investigators and two prosecutors. The new section follows complaints from supervisors that Cooley’s office had failed to file criminal cases involving code violations.