Sobering Centers Explained

An Innovative Solution for Care of Acute Intoxication

Shannon Smith-Bernardin
Bonar Menninger


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Sobering centers offer a cost-effective alternative for providing care to intoxicated adults whose public alcohol use puts themselves or others at risk. New interest in the decades-old approach has been sparked by CalAIM (California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal) (PDF),  a multiyear process led by the California Department of Health Care Services to improve the health outcomes and quality of life experienced by Medi-Cal patients. CalAIM will designate sobering centers as one of 14 reimbursable, non-traditional services available to augment or supplant traditional medical care. The reforms are designed to foster greater integration between physical health, mental health, and social services for high-risk Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

Recent state legislation aimed at easing emergency department overcrowding (California Assembly Bill 1544 [Chapter 138, Statutes of 2020]) also has focused new attention on these programs. AB 1544 authorizes local emergency management services agencies to develop triage programs that allow for the transport of non-emergent mental health and substance use patients to alternative care destinations.

This high-level fact sheet about sobering programs in California is now available.

In addition, CHCF commissioned a leading expert on sobering centers, Shannon Smith-Bernardin, PhD, RN, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, to produce a comprehensive field report about these programs, which will be available shortly.