The Sun Street Centers house on Sixth Street in Hollister. File photo.
The Sun Street Centers house on Sixth Street in Hollister. File photo.

This article was contributed by San Benito County Behavioral Health.

San Benito County Behavioral Health is proud of the partnerships we have developed to better serve our community. Because of the pride and hard work that is invested into all of our community partnerships, it is essential that an informed, fact-based response to the article recently written by Sun Street Centers (SSC) in BenitoLink be shared with the community. We believe that transparency and accurate information should be available to those who seek it. This article is an effort to maintain the trust that has been afforded to us by our community.

SSC has clarified that they did not intend to convey that they are shutting down their residential program; rather, they are suspending it until they receive proper certification per regulations required by the County and the State. SSC in Hollister is only licensed to provide perinatal residential services to women. These services are limited to women who are pregnant, or up to 60 days post-partum and who are using drugs or alcohol (this constitutes a small number of qualifying population). Sun Street will continue to provide sober living environment services for both men and women at their other two Hollister facilities that county behavioral health also has contracts for. This information was clarified during a meeting on 1/22/2020 with Behavioral Health staff, the County Administrative Office, a member of the Board of Supervisors, a SSC Board of Directors member, and the president of the SSC Board of Directors.

It is also very important to clarify the amount of referrals that the perinatal residence has received from the county during their 17 months of operation. In the article, SSC stated “After 17 months of operation, they failed to receive county referrals, which was integral to their plan…” This statement is untrue. In fact, this fiscal year, we have referred two women for perinatal services which are 100% of the eligible referrals that were available. Given that perinatal services criteria is so restricted (women who are pregnant, or up to 60 days post-partum and who are using drugs or alcohol), there are very limited numbers of eligible referrals in our community. SSC has, in fact, additionally received county funds by accepting ongoing county referrals for their two sober living environment residences in addition to the perinatal residential services.

The SSC-issued article goes on to say “Unfortunately, the county continues to send all referrals out of county today, and has done so since we opened our licensed program in June 2018.” San Benito County Behavioral Health has sent 100% of eligible referrals for sober living environment and perinatal services to SSC.

SSC would like to provide a broader array of inpatient residential services that will allow SSC to serve all women, but SSC is not yet licensed or certified to deliver those services. This confusion of services allowed by the state license was clarified during the 1/22/2020 meeting in which SSC acknowledged that they had mistakenly only applied for their perinatal services license and not additional women’s services. SSC also indicated that they would submit an additional application to Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to be able to perform those services. As of 1/22/2020, DHCS has confirmed that they have not received any additional applications from SSC.

The county behavioral health department has an extensive timeline of events and interactions between behavioral health and SSC that shows significant county assistance provided to SSC. Our documentation shows that we have been consultative and supportive in every step to help SSC navigate through the state system. These documents demonstrate how we have gladly helped SSC beyond what would be reasonably expected of our staff.

Upon review of the timeline and documents, it is clear to see that much of the delay was due to the response time by other agencies (DHCS and SSC) and not the behavioral health department. In fact, the county has gone above and beyond by calling DHCS to advocate for SSC, in order to try and persuade a quicker turnaround. In doing so, it was confirmed that the delay was due to incomplete and inaccurate documentation that was submitted to DHCS. Although we are aware that SSC has completed phase one of what the state requires to be certified, there are additional phases needed in order to have SSC be fully certified.

Our office continues to value the partnership with SSC and is confident our work together can continue professionally. As a reflection of our commitment, we have continued to refer eligible clients to SSC’s two sober living environment programs. This fiscal year alone we have already referred 100% of eligible perinatal and 100% of sober living environment clients for those services. Although SSC is a contracted provider, it is up to the discretion of the case manager to determine which facility is best for the client taking in mind the needs, structure of treatment, location of facility, and the wishes of each individual client.

San Benito County Behavioral Health has upheld our end of the contracts with SSC. Our constant communications with staff working at SSC have been professional and have shown mutual understanding of the timelines and requirements by the county and state. If there had been concerns pertaining to the process by the SSC board members or their CEO, we were, and continue to be, more than willing to listen and clarify any issues. Although it was hurtful to see such articles and emails written about our partnership, we hold no grudges and are confident we can continue a positive working partnership.

San Benito County has partnered with several community based organizations that offer much needed services to our community and we are looking forward to maintaining those partnerships. We are determined to follow state and federal guidelines and ensure that all our procedures and processes are in accordance with them. We thank Sun Street Centers for the opportunity to clarify misunderstandings and invite them and the public to additional productive and informative conversations.