Years ago, San Fernando Mayor Sylvia Ballin had a personal brush with mental illness in her family.
“I know what it’s like when you’re surrounded by someone who has temporary pressures in life that makes it impossible of discerning what’s right and wrong,” she recalled.
So when it came time to decide on what to do with the former building of the San Fernando Municipal Courthouse located at 919 First Street, which has been vacant for a number of years and sits right across the street from San Fernando City Hall, she never doubted on which route to take.
On the table were two proposals: a hotel or a mental health clinic. On Nov. 9, 2016, the county Board of Supervisors approved demolishing the structure and constructing a mental health facility to provide outpatient mental health services primarily for students and families.
“I would never support a hotel. We have the opportunity to help families. We have to value people and mental health,” Ballin said.
“They came on the wrong day, wrong time and with the wrong mayor,” Ballin added.
On Jan. 12, work officially began on the “Sheila Kuehl Family Wellness Center”. The facility is scheduled to open by March 2019.
The 15,600-square feet building at a reported price tag of $14.5 million would provide services on substance abuse, mental health and teen pregnancy. It includes a waiting area, reception area, business offices, counseling/therapy rooms, cubicle spaces, conference rooms, and space for the Department of Public Health Nurse Family Partnership program. People who come to the clinic and need it will get referrals to medical help or substance abuse center.
“This is the project for me. I support mental health. Some (in the San Fernando City Council) were not on board. I’m looking forward to the day when those doors are opened,” Ballin said.
There are those in the City who expressed opposition to the project. Concerns included people with serious mental conditions coming into the city and the dangers this could pose.
But Ballin’s support never wavered despite the opposition.
“This is an opportunity to offer critical mental health services to those outside San Fernando. I’m not putting up walls, barriers. This is a critical time to help,” Ballin said.
“Those who oppose it, they sound very much like our President,” she added.
Ballin noted there is a “serious problem going on with mental issues and if we can save and guide a few of them, I’m wholeheartedly behind it.”
And she concluded with a recommendation.
“If you need help, seek help before you abuse someone and destroy your life in the process. There are professionals who can help you work through the problem.”
Supervisor Kuehl thanked the City for the ultimate support.
“There’s a heart from how the City showed up to make sure people felt good about it,” Kuehl said.
Great Need for Mental Health Resources
There is a great need for mental health resources, Kuehl said.
According to a survey conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, 1 out of 5 adults in the San Fernando Valley suffers from depression.
Additionally, a study by Kaiser Permanente found that 20 percent of local adults reported that they were in need of mental health resources.
The Valley also has the highest reported rate of mental health needs for children at 10 percent.
The only mental health facility in the northeast San Fernando Valley is an urgent care clinic that opened in 2011 at the Olive View Hospital in Sylmar. That is simply not enough, Kuehl said.
The supervisor said the new clinic would be able to quickly respond to mental health needs in the community. Nurses there could make home visits, and deploy if there’s an emergency nearby.
“This is about access to a continuum of resources that people need to succeed,” said Dr. Jonathan Sherin, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. “It’s about bringing care to the household to mitigate and prevent drama.”