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3 Supervisors Leaning Toward UCSD Plan to Run Mental Hospital

April 23, 1986|DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | Times Staff Writer

Three of the five San Diego County supervisors say they like what they have seen so far of a proposal to allow UC San Diego to take over and improve the county's Hillcrest mental hospital.

If UCSD can find the money it needs to run the hospital for violent and impoverished mentally ill patients, Supervisors Susan Golding, George Bailey and Brian Bilbray said they would probably support turning the service over to the university's Department of Psychiatry.

"If they want it and can run it, I'll do anything I can to help them out," Bailey said.

Bilbray said he is very impressed with UCSD's operation of the former county general hospital, now UCSD Medical Center.

"They've got a great track record," Bilbray said. "It could be a very positive thing."

Golding said she has long supported the idea of cooperation between the county and the university. But she said she held off pursuing such an arrangement until the county was able to improve care at Hillcrest by reducing the number of beds at the hospital and spending more money on the remaining patients.

Golding said Norman Hickey, the county's new chief administrator, and Karenlee Robinson, the new head of the Hillcrest hospital, deserved time to improve the beleaguered facility, which early this year lost its eligibility for federal Medicare funds because of cases of substandard care.

"The reviews of Hillcrest have been good," Golding said. "From all reports, the county has done a good job of turning that facility around. With a certain amount of pride, the county can now talk to UCSD not out of desperation but with the idea that this is a better way to go."

But the three supervisors said they need to know more about the proposal, which was first made public by UCSD Psychiatry Department Chairman Lewis Judd in an interview published Sunday in The Times.

Judd said he envisioned what he termed an "academic mental health center" to care for the patients now seen at Hillcrest--violent emergencies and others without private or government health insurance.

Unlike existing University of California neuropsychiatric institutes in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Judd said, the San Diego center would serve as a unique base for training and research on chronic, indigent patients for whose care the state already pays millions of dollars a year.

Judd said the center would cost the state about $12 million annually--beyond the $7.5 million that the state already sends to Hillcrest through the county. Assemblyman Larry Stirling (R-San Diego), who proposed a similar solution last year, has pledged to work for that funding in the state Legislature if the county, the university and the local medical community can agree on a proposal.

Golding and Bailey both said they will ask Hickey to examine the UCSD proposal. Golding said she plans to meet with Judd to discuss the idea in more detail, while Bailey said he will meet with UCSD Chancellor Richard Atkinson.

Both supervisors said they would be reluctant to approve construction of a new 111-bed county mental hospital in the Sports Arena area when that issue comes to the board May 6. They said it would be foolish to go forward with plans to build a new hospital before settling any possibility of a UCSD connection.

"I think it's too important and too good an opportunity to bypass, and it would be shortsighted of us not to take a very serious look and try to make it work," Golding said. "I intend to try to make it work."

Supervisors Paul Eckert and Leon Williams could not be reached for comment.

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