Other Voices: Questions abound about mental health funds | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: Questions abound about mental health funds

Many thanks to Dave Moller for his most welcome and necessary clarification of our county’s use of Mental Health Services Act money. As someone with an advanced degree and experience in community organization and planning and also as a county Behavioral Health Department client, I am keenly interested in how we use the annual MHSA money.

The Union’s headline on April 27, 2007, read: “County gets funds for mental health; misses a year of new services due to slow process.” Conflicting stories had circulated regarding whether our county’s late filing caused us to lose more than a million dollars.

Now we know it is permanently lost. To say the state “took its time” sidesteps the fact that the county behavioral health administration also took its time in submitting and then resubmitting the proposal to the state.

I can’t help but wonder if the top county administrators and citizens would have yawned over losing this amount if roads, rather than services for people with serious mental illnesses, had been at stake. Wouldn’t we have done whatever was necessary to secure more than $1 million to help pay for a new overpass?

Perhaps the public would have been more vocal had the process been more transparent. If members of the MHSA Steering Committee hadn’t personally informed me of some of their meetings, I would not have known to attend. The press was never invited to steering committee meetings. Further, nonmembers were not allowed to attend subcommittee meetings.

It would also be helpful if the county Web site, http://www.mynevada county.com, provided the public with information about MHSA. Pertinent items might ideally include: A complete copy of the newly approved county proposal; a list of volunteers and staff who serve on the MHSA Steering Committee; meeting minutes; dates and times of all MHSA meetings so that anyone could attend; how to find state Department of Mental Health regulations about MHSA; DMH’s responses to the county, which I think have disappeared from the Web site; etc.

Several questions concerning the MHSA monies remain unanswered, in my opinion.

1) If the county is actually planning to outsource the services paid for with MHSA funds, as Michael Heggerty announced at the last MHSA Steering Committee meeting I visited, then why does “about $750,000” of $2.4 million need to go “toward start-up funding to buy office supplies, vehicles and whatever else is needed to begin reaching about 100 of the county’s most acute patients”? The previous statement was attributed to a county official Dave Moller interviewed.

Wouldn’t the contractor provide these things? How much money is needed to manage and oversee what the contractors do and to report to the state? Perhaps I just don’t grasp the whole picture. There may be a perfectly reasonable answer to these questions.

2) How was the decision made to spend the entire amount on new, untried programs for 100 of the county’s most severely sick patients? Both the current and previous behaviorial health administrators have clearly stated that all behaviorial health patients are under-served. Why wasn’t a compromise made, such as doing a pilot full-service program in year one for a much smaller number of patients while adding the availability of individual and/or group psychotherapy for everyone? Currently, professional psychotherapy is not available for regular behaviorial health patients, all of whom have severe mental illnesses.

3) To what extent was public input from town hall meetings on MHSA, MHSA surveys that were distributed county-wide and tallied, and several MHSA focus-group meetings of health professionals considered in formulating the Nevada County proposal? Remember: The emphasis with MHSA is a new model of consumer-driven mental health services. The old model of having “professionals” dictate what is best for the “consumers” is to be replaced, according to California’s Department of Mental Health. The clients, along with their supporters, are supposed to be in a position to determine what services the county is to deliver.

I shall eagerly await further coverage in The Union about MHSA programs and expenditures. Hopefully more light will be shed, and the taxpayers will have an opportunity to help determine how this annual influx of money can best be used.


Abigail Weissman lives in Grass Valley.

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