Through a Door Darkly…California’s Con Game of Mental Health

Part II: The Bait and Switch
By Sharon Byrne

It can happen to you.
It can happen to me.
It can happen to everyone eventually.
There’s a crazy world outside
We’re not about to lose our pride.
It Can Happen. Written by Yes, Released on the album 90125 in 1983.

Untreated mental illness is the leading cause of disability and suicide and imposes high costs on state and local government . . . . State and county governments are forced to pay billions of dollars each year in emergency medical care, long-term nursing home care, unemployment, housing, and law enforcement, including juvenile justice, jail and prison costs.” From the California Mental Health Services Act, passed in 2004.

Prop 63 Logo TransparentA decade after the Mental Health Services Act’s passage, I saw a homeless man wandering my street, screaming to no one about media lies. I walked my dog that night with a neighbor. As we passed by Chapala One, I saw this same homeless fellow sleeping in the garage entry. He raised his head as my dog approached him. He was intoxicated. My dog accepted a pat on the head and moved on to resume processing the evening’s peemails.

I wondered again why this man was in my neighborhood, obviously in need of mental health assistance. And what should I do? For the second time that day I questioned whether I should call the police. The guy is trespassing, and I am pretty big on the neighborhood watch thing.

But what’s this going to accomplish, really? What would the police do with him? Cite and release? Book him into jail? Relocate him to some other neighborhood?

None of those are a solution.

From the Mental Health Services Act:

(d)In a cost cutting move 30 years ago, California drastically cut back its services in state hospitals for people with severe mental illness. Thousands ended up on the streets homeless and incapable of caring for themselves. Today thousands of suffering people remain on our streets because they are afflicted with untreated severe mental illness. We can and should offer these people the care they need to lead more productive lives.
(e)With effective treatment and support, recovery from mental illness is feasible for most people.
(f)By expanding programs that have demonstrated their effectiveness, California can save lives and money. Early diagnosis and adequate treatment provided in an integrated service system is very effective; and by preventing disability, it also saves money. Cutting mental health services wastes lives and costs more. California can do a better job saving lives and saving money by making a firm commitment to providing timely, adequate mental health services.

Sounds good, doesn’t? The voters in 2004 thought so too….

So if we have the ability to provide ‘timely, adequate mental health services’ from taxing millionaires in this state, then why is that homeless man shouting the odds in my street, clearly in need of mental health services?

The act provides for oversight with a committee comprised of 16 individuals including a small business rep, large business, county sheriff, labor union, 2 persons with severe mental illness, a mental health professional, a school superintendent, a physician specializing in alcohol and drug treatment, and a rep with a heath services insurer.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown sits on this oversight committee.

In 2009 Rose King, an author of the original act, filed a complaint against the state Department of Mental Health. Moving far away from the promise of acute mental health care, MHSA spending was turning into a boondoggle for mental health service providers. King says, ‘They produce films, PSA’s, fund lots of conferences, and distribute grants to every interest group, which succeeded in getting them all on board with program: NAMI CA, Children and Family Advocates, Mental Health Associations, of course. And they all conduct conferences, trainings, promotional campaigns, etc. Lots of money spent on “planning.”

Services to be provided under the MHSA are at the counties’ discretion to plan and execute. The state’s Department of Mental Health (Mental Health) and the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (Accountability Commission) were supposed to provide oversight and direction of county implementations of the MHSA. So how did counties move from funding acute mental health to putting on conferences and de-stigmatization campaigns?

The act was further weakened legislatively. On March 24, 2011, Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 100 (AB 100) into law. Changes to the MHSA included the elimination of review and approval of county MHSA plans by the Department of Mental Health (DMH) and the MHSOAC. So there went oversight. Open season! Come all takers!

The Department of Mental Health was then eliminated by Governor Brown as part of his budget reforms in 2012-2013. Their services were transferred to other departments, mainly the Department of Health Care Services.

We’re still collecting money for Prop 63. Oversight has been weakened. So who’s in charge, and where is all the money going?

The answer in Part III.

About Sharon Byrne

About Sharon Byrne Sharon Byrne found herself unwittingly thrust into municipal and political issues when she took a sabbatical from her corporate career, and moved to West Downtown in late 2008, a neighborhood in serious decay. She helped engineer a major turnaround there working with engaged neighborhood women. She served on the Franklin Neighborhood Center Advisory Committee, and the Neighborhood Advisory Council. She is the executive director for the Milpas Community Association, and currently serves on the Advisory Boards for the Salvation Army Hospitality House and Santa Barbara County Alcohol and Drug Problems. She is a former Deputy Director of Common Cause in California, and has worked on several ballot initiatives locally and at the state level. Her education in engineering and psychology gives her an unusual mix of skills for working on quality-of-life, public safety, and public policy issues.

6 Responses to Through a Door Darkly…California’s Con Game of Mental Health

  1. el_smurfo August 27, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    The money went where it always goes, to those who own the politicians. It’s the same story as the State Water Project, voters approve $270 million, project costs $1.76 billion and we get not a drop when we need it most. Can’t wait for the final cost of Jerry’s monorail to nowhere…not a track has been built and the budget has already tripled.

  2. Past is prologue August 27, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    Precursor of Obamacare. Put money on the table and it will get spent. Results not necessary. Wealth redistribution is the only goal. Hug a Tea Pary membber today before they say I told you so.

    Thank you so much for tracking this highly unfortunate waste of money and public good will. Hannah-Beth Jackson and Das Williams need to be held 100% accountable for Prop 63′s failures.

    Let’s hope Sheriff Brown has the sense to get Prop 63 dollars flowing into our public safety sytem and kudos to Brown for getting some mental health facilities incorporated into the new North County jail.

    Money also needs to be spent on the Public Guardians office so those on the street who cannot make good decisions for themselves, and living on the streets is never a good decision, can get into Prop 63 funded care faciltiies with all due process rights protected.

  3. Club Unicorn strikes again August 27, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    We had the answer, the public spoke, and then the progressives turned it into a private piggy bank. The current Democat administrtion of Prop 63 needs to be 86′ed.

  4. Hotel Sixty-Three August 27, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    Give the next mentaly impaired street person you see the address of Jackson or Williams legislative offices, along with an IOU for a room at the Biltmore to be paid for by Prop 63.

  5. Anonymous August 28, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    So lets throw the bums out. Vote third party if you want to throw the bums out. Don’t be a fool and think that (if you’re a republican) the Dems must go and be replaced by Repubs, and don’t be a fool and vote for a Dem thinking that the Repubs must go.

    They all must go, and a third party will at least give us some kind of chance. Don’t buy that old line that if you vote third party you’re wasting your vote. It’s the other way around, if you vote for a major party, Dems or Pubs you are throwing your vote away because you know as well as everyone what will happen- the samo samo. What a waste. Send these sycophant weathervanes back to their small selfish world, and vote in some fresh blood.

    • Endangered specious September 1, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

      Republicans would be fresh blood in this town. Republi-who? Go ahead, Santa Barbara keep spending your way into Stockton.