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County seeks quicker path by shifting mental health hub plans to Alvarado



Call it a pivot of a pivot.

Like a running back bouncing into an unexpectedly open lane on the football field, the county is poised for an opportunistic shift in its strategy regarding mental health resources serving metropolitan San Diego.

The first quick direction change came in 2019 when the county Board of Supervisors unanimously abandoned a plan to lease a property it owns on Third Avenue in Hillcrest to developers, who were likely to turn the parcel into high-end condominiums. At the urging of Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, the board instead supported using the space as a behavioral health hub, consolidating several levels of care into one location within walking distance of two major hospitals.

Announced in 2020, development plans estimated the hub’s cost at $100 million and an opening date in 2025, though an official said Monday that the glacial pace of planning and permitting new hospitals has already pushed the timeline into 2026.

On Tuesday, the board — again at Fletcher’s urging — will consider instead spending about $28 million to renovate existing space at Alvarado Hospital Medical Center, 6 miles east of the Hillcrest site. Pivoting to Alvarado would not only be cheaper, but could arrive, officials said, three years earlier, with an estimated opening date “at the end of 2023.”

“We see this as an opportunity to do everything we planned to do at Third Avenue, but do it much, much, much more quickly,” Fletcher said in a recent interview. “You have to be nimble; if you see a better opportunity, you have to seize it.”

Alvarado has recently been quite active in the local mental health care community, opening a 30-bed unit in 2018 that caters to seniors. In a statement, Alvarado’s owner, Prime Healthcare, said the partnership is designed to “help strengthen our county’s behavioral health safety net,” at a time when the region “is currently experiencing an unprecedented spike in numbers and acuity of behavioral health patients.”

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