The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a two-year pilot program to add 500 mental health beds countywide.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger recommended the pilot program, calling it “a critical first step of rapid expansion.”

An October report by the Department of Mental Health found that county psychiatric emergency rooms are severely overcrowded, with patients sometimes waiting days for a hospital bed.

One of the goals of the pilot program is to get people the care they need to keep them out of a jail system that has become one of the nation’s largest mental health institutions. Roughly one-quarter of homeless individuals countywide have a serious mental illness and cycle in and out of hospitals and jail without receiving care to put them on a path to recovery, according to the report.

More hospital beds will not be enough to resolve the problem, DMH Director Dr. Jonathan Sherin told the board. More “step-down” residential care beds and a network of cooperation will also be required.

“The effort isn’t just about increasing the number of beds, it is also increasing the quality of care and creating a network between all of our hospitals, whether they are county hospitals or private hospitals, so we can efficiently use those beds,” Sherin said.

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