Coast Plaza Hospital in Norwalk is poised to open the first phase of a specialized inpatient Behavioral Health Unit to serve several underserved Los Angeles-area communities. The unit is expected to see its first patients during the week of Aug. 7.

Expanded access to behavioral health services is a critical need of the project’s targeted population of Medi-Cal eligible patients. The unit will serve not only patients from Norwalk, but also patients served by Coast Plaza’s sister hospitals — Memorial Hospital of Gardena, Community Hospital of Huntington Park and East Los Angeles Doctors Hospital – and other patients from surrounding communities.

All four safety net hospitals are part of the Pipeline Health System and are owned by Medical Properties Trust (NYSE:MPW).

“Our commitment to taking a leadership role to address the behavioral health needs of these underserved communities is evidenced by a significant investment made during a time of financial challenge and ongoing COVID concerns, when labor and supplies have been scarce,” said Coast Plaza Chief Executive Officer Patrick Rafferty, who also serves as Chief Operating Officer for Pipeline’s LA-based hospitals.

The new unit includes 37 adult inpatient beds with a room for dining as well as therapeutic diversional activities.

“Our over-arching goal is to provide acute inpatient behavioral health care and then help patients transition from the inpatient setting to community-based care and healthier, productive lives,” Rafferty explained.

The project team is working closely with Dr. Ken Orduna of the Central Neighborhood Health Foundation, a non-profit Federally Qualified Health Center with multiple sites in LA to provide for patients’ ongoing primary care and social service needs.

Coast Plaza Hospital’s strategic planning process identified access to behavioral health as an opportunity to enhance service to the community, and the COVID pandemic amplified that need. With a reported one in 24 California residents diagnosed with one or more mental illnesses, expanding access to behavioral health services is a critical need in the communities served by Coast Plaza and its sister hospitals.

With additional capital support provided by Coast Plaza Hospital’s landlord, Medical Properties Trust, the project team began development of a new unit offering a range of services to meet this need. These services are focused on daily therapies including individual therapy and group milieu settings from disciplines, psychiatric and medication treatment, social services and discharge planning coordination.

“We expect to see patients with severe mental illness, deterioration in their mental illness, and patients relapsing in their addiction to drugs or alcohol,” explained Dr. Anil Sharma, medical director of the new behavioral health unit. “We are not a rehabilitation facility for addiction, but we can assist patients in getting the treatment they need without having to endure long wait times in the ED and without taking up beds needed by medical or surgical patients.”

The new Behavioral Health Unit makes Coast Plaza the first in LA County’s Service Planning Area (SPA) 7 territory to offer a continuum of behavioral healthcare and treatment including general acute care, acute psychiatric inpatient care, and an Intensive Outpatient Psychiatric program all at the same location.

At the same time, the new unit is expected to relieve over-crowding in area emergency departments where patients with behavioral issues may show up.

“We desperately need more behavioral health beds across Los Angeles, especially in the lower income communities and with the ever-increasing homeless population,” said Dr. Robert Bei, chairman of emergency medicine at Memorial Hospital of Gardena. “It’s common for patients to wait days for a proper psychiatric bed. This can only help relieve the situation.”

Looking ahead, Rafferty envisions the opportunity to provide limited short-term housing with eight beds available for two- or three-day stays for patients who are discharged from the inpatient unit and need long-term housing.

Hospital leaders also envision a wellness center for outpatient services, which can include healthcare, community outreach, and other follow-up services for individuals and families. In this way, the facility will have the ability to provide ongoing outpatient treatment to assist in the long-term success of the patients.

“Our goal is to make this a model program for the State of California and for the country, one that significantly increases the long-term success of this group of patients and provides equitable access not currently available to them,” Rafferty said. “We are passionate about creating a model that makes a long-term difference in people’s lives. This will be a state-of-the-art program that provides comprehensive care to meet each patient’s needs.”

Aug. 4, 2023