Mental health care: Steinberg's innovative plan will improve services in California
By Nancy Pena, Paul Taylor and Anna Kreiger Special to the Mercury News June 11, 2013
The scenario is repeated every day in California: Someone experiencing an overwhelming psychotic episode comes to a hospital emergency room because she knows of nowhere else to go, nowhere else to get help. Other times, untreated mental health symptoms result in an individual committing a low-level criminal offense, with officers booking the person in jail because there is no alternative.
These individuals pay the human costs from gaps in crisis mental health care through a loss of dignity and denial of needed treatment. The financial costs are borne by all of us.
Santa Clara County spends $40 million every year on involuntary hospitalization of individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, many of whom could be served through less expensive community-based services. This system is not in the best interest of county residents.
Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg has proposed increased funding for innovative, cost-effective crisis mental health services throughout California. The funding has been included in the state's proposed budget agreement. We urge Gov. Jerry Brown sign a state budget that funds Steinberg's proposal for two important reasons: Investing in community crisis services will save money, and more importantly, save lives.
Crisis mental health services have far-reaching effects: They reduce the need for expensive hospitalizations, shorten the length of hospital stays, prevent emergency room visits and divert individuals from the criminal justice system. Santa Clara County offers a variety of crisis mental health services, including mobile crisis services for youth. However, due to reduced funding for mental health programs and increased demand for treatment, there remains significant unmet need.
Steinberg's proposal would fund 2,000 additional beds in unlocked crisis residential treatment programs across the state. An alternative to expensive psychiatric hospitalizations, these programs provide 24-hour care in a therapeutic community-based setting. In these programs, individuals have a safe home-like environment to recover, build support systems, and learn crisis coping strategies.
Santa Clara County provides crisis residential services for up to 45 individuals at a time through Momentum for Mental Health. However, limited funding means there is nearly always a waiting list for placement. As a result, patients who could be diverted from locked inpatient care, or who are stabilized and ready for discharge, spend unnecessary days hospitalized. Investing in crisis residential programs would save our county money while providing services that are in demand and have proven effective.
Additionally, Steinberg's proposal would fund 25 mobile crisis support teams in California. These teams of mental health professionals support law enforcement in the field by providing services to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. Mobile teams provide services such as assistance with medication and assessments regarding the need for hospitalization. Our county law enforcement is overburdened with mental health crisis calls, and mobile crisis teams provide officers with critical support.
These mental health services, along with others Steinberg's proposal would fund, have been effective in Santa Clara County. We know these services work, save money, and are vital tools for people in recovery. Steinberg's proposal would combine an investment of state general fund money with private foundation support to leverage significant federal funds. This is an opportunity for our state to invest in community mental health so that Californians get the best and most appropriate care when in crisis.
We urge the governor to sign a budget for California that includes Steinberg's innovative proposal for community mental health.
Nancy Peña is the director of Santa Clara County's Department of Mental Health. Paul Taylor is president of the Association of Mental Health Contract Agencies of Santa Clara County and president and CEO of Momentum for Mental Health. Anna Krieger is a senior patients' rights attorney for the Mental Health Advocacy Project of the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley. They wrote this for this newspaper.