Supervisors Approve $848M Mental Health Plan


Last updated 7/18/2023 at 11:53am

San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved a new three-year, $848 million Mental Health Service Act, with the goal of helping children, youth, families, adults and older adults who suffer from mental illness or crises.

So, what does the new act and funding mean to Borrego Springs?

According to the County press release, “Some of the existing services receiving increased funding are housing and “Wrap Around Care” that helps children by treating them within their own schools, homes and families.”

The act to improve mental health care services, includes increased funding for the mobile crisis response teams that send mental health experts rather than law enforcement when appropriate to respond to someone in crisis.

It also covers the important “Walk-in crisis stabilization units that gives people who are experiencing mental health episodes a safe, calm place to get around-the-clock care help, rather than being taken to jails or emergency rooms.

Board Chairwoman Nora Vargas praised the plan and said its funding source was critical.

“It’s a vital funding source for Behavioral Health Services, representing its biggest funding source,” Vargas said. “And so it’s going to be critical in providing vital treatments, prevention, innovation, and innovative behavioral health services for individuals experiencing serious mental health issues.”

Martha Deichler, Borrego Springs Unified School District School-Community Liaison, praised the “Wrap Around Program.”

“It works because it treats students experiencing or expressing mental health problems where the issues are most likely to be identified – in school. And it provides consistency, and cultural familiarity, working with the school and the home–which can be a source of behavioral or serious mental health problems, like those arising from trauma, that are often related to the home situation,” she said.

“Parents are often confused and lost when it comes to a child with mental health issues. The Wrap Around Program helps them understand and provide appropriate support. It also helps the school and educators, who can play a significant role in the lives of children and youth experiencing or developing a mental health crisis, with proper guidance and support.”

Deichler added, “The only problem for Borrego students is that the Wrap Around program takes a social worker to oversee and monitor the program; and our school district cannot afford the salary needed to recruit bi-lingual social workers, and if we could recruit one, we couldn’t keep them, because social workers live too far from Borrego, and we can’t assist in providing local housing.”

She pointed out that for Borrego to benefit from most of these programs, it would take extra personnel and funding, which we don’t have in our district’s budget, and which the County grants and programs don’t include.

“The ideal funding package would have to include a very attractive salary, housing, and often a job for their spouse. The ideal social worker candidate would be a young, unmarried graduate, who is anxious and enthusiastic about making a difference, and isn’t concerned about making the most money, and doesn’t mind being socially isolated in Borrego. These people are rare,” Deichler said.

“It would take the same type of additional funding for Warner Springs, Julian, Jamul, and almost every rural community to provide the Wrap Around program. And, as the tail end of the County’s population and geographic trail, our communities just can’t compete with urban communities in acquiring or funding social workers.”

“In other words,” stated Deichler, “without special considerations and funds written into this grant, this wonderful program is out of reach of our youth and school district.

The major source of funding for the County is California’s Mental Health Services Act comes from Prop 163 – a 1% state tax on individuals with incomes over $1 million – that voters approved in 2004, to expand and improve behavioral health help.

County officials said the Mental Health Services Act funding was essential to mental health treatment statewide.

“Perhaps, increasing this tax to 2% is overdue. Millionaires seem to have proliferated in Silicon Valley, almost as fast as the homeless population,” Deichler noted.

“That’s a pretty broad agenda and a significant number of very diverse populations with different problems and needs. A homebound senior, dying from loneliness, and also suffering from serious physical problems requires different treatment than families exhibiting patterns that are creating an unhealthy environment for raising children. For example, a family where both or one parent is addicted to drugs, or alcohol.”

“Sometimes, the reach and agenda of a new funding program can expect to do too much and is spread too thin among various populations with competing needs. It seems to me, funding that focuses on a specific population, or mental health goal, generates a stronger synergy for actually improving and facilitating better mental health.”

Adding, “Of course, I would love to see this type of funding directed at school children. The youth, who need help are easily identified, school is a controlled environment, and their family is reachable, etc.

“All we need is realistic funding that addresses our unique issues of cost for recruiting help. There is always a shortage of professionals, due to distance and population size in Borrego, whether it is the Mobile Crisis Unit or the Crisis Stabilization program. These require personnel, covering the entire County, and Borrego is at the end of the food chain.

As far as Borrego is concerned, Deichler said, “mental health treatment for adults and seniors should be facilitated by the clinic, which can also treat physical symptoms, which may be a cause of the mental health issues. Some things our seniors need are more home health care workers with better salaries, and training. They also need in-home behavior and direct mental health counseling, as well as community outreach.”

The new three-year plan will spend $274.8 million in the 2023 – 24 fiscal year, the County’s largest sum ever, and 20% more than 2022 – 23. That spending would increase to $286.6 million in fiscal years 2024 – 25 and 2025 – 26.

HHSA officials said most of the $275 million in the 2023 – 24 year would fund the agency’s existing behavioral health programs. However, they said there would be increases to boost a number of new programs. Some of those include:

$12 million increase for the County’s Assertive Community Treatment services that use a “whatever it takes” approach to help people with serious mental illnesses who are experiencing homelessness.

$4.6 million to boost Mobile Crisis Response and Psychiatric Emergency Response teams and the Vista County Crisis Stabilization Unit.

$600,000 to support the Crisis Action Community Connection program. This program helps youth who have suffered recent psychiatric episodes by offering intensive mental health support and community resources. It also provides recuperative care for transition-age youth who need connections to services and housing.

$7.4 million to boost public awareness and public messaging about suicide prevention, including adding a component of the “It’s Up to Us” campaign to focus on young people. The campaign helps San Diegans talk openly about mental health, recognize its challenges, find local resources and seek support to inspire good health, reduce mental health stigma and prevent suicide.

$700,000 to invest in school-based suicide prevention and early mental-health intervention.

“This is a great program ideally. However, a budget of $600,000 spread over the entire county is a drop in the proverbial budget; and will fail to meet the increasing number of youths suffering psychiatric episodes as a result of drugs,” Deichler stated.

“These last two areas of funding are backwards: $7.4 million should go to the schools to invest in school-based suicide prevention, drug use prevention and early mental health intervention. The $700,000 allocated to schools should be the amount spent on public relations and social media. A Public Relations campaign touches no one directly; and many of the families, seniors and youth, living in serious mental health pain and addictions aren’t really interested in the ‘stigma’ of mental health, as much as direct and immediate help. Of course, any intervention needs to be sensitive to protecting the individual’s privacy, which is a serious issue among high-school age youth.”

Deichler stated that, “Instead of throwing money at media networks and PR consultants, the priority spending should be for direct intervention approaches. To accomplish this, the County needs money for more social workers, more social services and resources in more areas of the county, like Borrego, along with more therapists, and more beds in residential facilities.

“For any component of the new Mental Health Act to achieve its goals, it must address the real costs of the challenges of intervention and treatment, none of which will be solved by a television commercial or social media campaign.

“A mental health stigma is not deadly. It’s not even relevant or as dangerous as being homeless, or as life threatening as a drug overdose,” she concluded.

For more information about the County’s behavioral health program go to the Health and Human Services Agency’s behavioral health web page.

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