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Alter Behavioral Health Expands San Diego Footprint

HEALTHCARE: Crisis Stabilization Homes ‘Between a Hospital, Residential Program’

SAN DIEGO – Alter Behavioral Health, which has operated a crisis stabilization home in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando since October 2022, is planning to expand its local services with a residential home expected to open next door sometime next year.

Katarena Arger
San Diego Clinical Director
Alter Behavioral Health

Katarena Arger, a licensed marriage family therapist and clinical director of the San Diego operation, said the new home will have 16 beds to meet a need for more mental health care in the community, increasing the company’s number of local clients by almost three-fold.

The house already in operation in Rolando has six beds for men or women 18 or older, and the residential home next door will have 16 beds. Alter Behavioral Health, formerly Alter Health Group, accepts PPO insurance or out-of-pocket payments.

Arger said the new addition will allow the Orange County-based Alter Behavioral Health to provide two levels of care. The existing six-bedroom home provides intensive residential treatment (IRT), sometimes referred to as crisis stabilization, while the new residential program will provide a lower level of care over a longer term, she explained.

Unique Service Fills Need in San Diego

Operations Manager Will Lemme said the IRT property provides a service not offered anywhere else in the county.

“It’s part of the reason we wanted to come to San Diego,” he said. “There’s a need for people who are going through a crisis or need their medication stabilized. And there wasn’t anything like this available, so we wanted to bridge that gap.”

Will Lemme
Operations Manager
Alter Behavioral Health

“We were on the forefront of how we can fill that gap,” Arger added.

Clients in the IRT house are in the midst of a mental health crisis yet are not in need of hospitalization. Lemme said 55% to 65% of clients in the house have come directly from being discharged from a hospital.

Arger said other clients may have been at home but are in a severe mental state that needs attention but not hospitalization.

“A typical person at the crisis stabilization house is experiencing severe mental health symptoms and needs support with medication, learning coping skills, learning about their mental health symptoms and diagnosis, and getting back to taking care of themselves,” she said.

Clients stay an average of two or three weeks at the home, although some have stayed upward to two months.

“We are in this unique space between a hospital and a residential program,” Arger said. “A client may have been on a 72-hour hold at the hospital, and the hold is up so they can’t stay there, but they’re still not quite ready. They can come here to continue their stabilization.

“Or a client who is at a lower level of care but just not doing well may need a little more attention or hands-on care, meaning support and encouragement with activities of daily living and taking their medication,” she continued. “Just giving them a little more time for symptom remittance.”

Clients are cared for by a staff of 15, including nurses and clinicians.

Tranquil Environment Aids Stabilization

Arger said the program accepts people with active psychosis or hear voices, see hallucinations and are paranoid. During their time at the home, they can find a tranquil environment designed to help them stabilize.

Bedrooms have warm colors, soft mattresses and just a few items, which Lemme said helps clients avoid distractions.

A backyard area has a barbeque and a patio set under a shade, and an on-site chef prepares a different healthy meal each day.

People under care in the home are not allowed to leave the premises during their stay, while clients at the residential home next door will have more freedom and will be allowed out in the community to work on their social development during their stay, which is typically 30 to 40 days.

The new property will be on the former site of the short-term residential program Community Resources and Self Help (CRASH), run by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Alter Behavioral Health has seven properties in Orange County, including two six-bed primary mental health homes, one substance-use disorder house, one IRT house and one outpatient program with three transitional houses. Together they serve about 65 clients.

Lemme said Alter Behavioral Care originally focused on substance use disorders and had plans to expand in 2021 but shifted to mental health because of a growing need following the pandemic.

Alter Behavioral Health
FOUNDED: 2019
CEO: Michael Castanon
HEADQUARTERS: Dana Point
BUSINESS: Private mental health program
ANNUAL REVENUE: $30 million+
EMPLOYEES: 145+
WEBSITE: https://alterbehavioralhealth.co
NOTABLE: Michael Castanon was a banking executive and said he shifted his career to mental health after recognizing the positive impact therapy had on his life.

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