Alameda County mental health funding ‘pulls in the dark’
“Residents of Alameda County witness daily the inadequacies of our mental health system,” the county grand jury concluded.
The 20 people who expressed their frustrations in a recent Zoom meeting represented a fraction of the members of Alameda County FASMI – Families Advocating for the Seriously Mentally Ill. “Everyone here has their skin in the game,” said Katy Polony, co-founder of this group. whose members have direct or indirect experience of serious mental illness.
An Alameda County civil grand jury report released last year validated their complaints. “Residents of Alameda County witness daily the inadequacies of our mental health system,” the grand jurors wrote, calling our safety net “fragmented and unresponsive” and adding that “access to the system must be streamlined. “.
County residents will have a chance to question this system when the Board of Overseers considers how to spend the roughly $100 million we get each fiscal year through the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA).
California voters enacted the MHSA in 2004 when they approved Proposition 63. It imposed a 1% income tax surcharge on income over $1 million, creating a pool of funds for county governments to help needy residents with serious mental illness.
Alameda County uses MHSA funds to contract with more than 100 community organizations that provide prevention and treatment services.
But the Grand Jury investigation revealed a “questionable allocation of resources” due to the “unavailability of useful and coordinated data”. Their report called current funding decisions “shooting in the dark” and recommended the county conduct a comprehensive mental health needs assessment and create a strategic plan to improve cost effectiveness.
County officials disagreed. The county “does not approach this type of assessment from a single ‘needs/gaps’ perspective,” health officials wrote. “Rather, it assesses current programs, customer services, usage, and demographics…to determine if additional investments, expansion, or recalibration of the program are needed.”
Alameda County Behavioral Health, the agency that administers the MHSA program, will release a draft spending plan in April. The public will be able to express themselves before the Supervisory Board adopts the budget for the next financial year.
I found the Grand Jury report when I went looking for answers after trying and failing to help an adult with mental illness get into the safety net. This adult was fortunately reconciled with members of his family who could afford to buy him private insurance.
But no one knows how many people with serious mental illness are forced to rely on our “fragmented and unresponsive” system. We should assess their numbers and needs and reconsider how we try to meet overwhelming demand with limited resources.
As a survivor of serious mental illness, I know that the patient is often reluctant to accept treatment.
That county mental health officials reject the Grand Jury’s recommendation suggests we have a mental health system in denial. It needs public intervention.
Former journalist Tom Abate is a freelance writer living in San Leandro. This is adapted from an article on his blog, tomabate.com/ruminations.