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Spirit Center or the emergency room?

It is unfortunate that the decision has been arbitrarily made to spend money earmarked for individuals struggling with mental illness at Spirit Center on an updated computer system for Nevada County Behavioral Health.

It is discouraging when meeting the needs of a department created to serve the mentally ill becomes a higher priority than providing direct services to these struggling people.

I don’t discount the need for a computer system that will ultimately benefit the mentally ill population by tracking important “client” information. In addition, a computer system that will make it possible to more easily and efficiently meet state and federal reporting requirements is a valuable tool.



But when a budget crisis is occurring, people fighting to get out of bed in the morning, and failing to successfully integrate into our community, are better served by a drop-in center such as Spirit. A computer system, as important as it is, can be purchased in the future when the state budget has stabilized.

Having spent my career in the public and nonprofit sectors, I believe the needs of those we serve should take priority over updating office tools when funding is so tight. It would be a waste of money to have a state-of-the-art computer system in the Behavioral Health Department while people with mental illness are being taken to the emergency room rather than having access to Spirit Center.




To interrupt the downward spiral that occurs when the needs of the mentally ill are not met is what Spirit Center does best, and this facility is at high-risk of closing because funding is now being redirected to purchase a computer system.

Without Spirit Center, the “melt down” that many times will occur for those with mental illness is not interrupted, and these individuals are transported (usually by the police or a county sheriff) to the emergency room at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital – a rather dangerous and very expensive process. It can also be humiliating for the person in “melt down” who has not had the critical support that can help to avert an ER visit.

What is important to me is that there is no information indicating this revised plan of redirecting funds away from Spirit Center includes funding to support the added cost to provide services from law enforcement and the emergency room. Both will be financially impacted if Spirit closes.

Having participated in the Mental Health Services Act Proposition 63 planning process, I have observed the difficult work undertaken by many committed people. They include community members, mental health professionals, hospital emergency room staff, friends and family members who care for mentally ill individuals and – most important – those who continue to manage and overcome their mental illness.

These dedicated individuals met over and over again to negotiate and identify the most meaningful way to use Proposition 63 funding.

An incredible effort was made to allow input from everyone in order to avoid “arbitrary” decisions. The process of deciding how best to use these funds could have been shorter and easier but inclusiveness and considering the needs of many takes time and patience. Always, the needs of those receiving services were held as the highest priority.

I did not hear consensus during my participation for purchasing a computer system for Behavioral Health.

Were the months of planning that took place not considered relevant? Did behavioral health administrators lose patience waiting for consensus and decide to devalue the incredible (and inclusive) effort made by the Proposition 63 planning group? Have the needs of the population that Behavioral Health was created to serve been deemed less important than a computer system?

The arbitrary decision to buy a computer system does not honor the hard work done by the Proposition 63 planning committee. I would encourage behavioral health administrators to allow the Proposition 63 negotiation process to work.

It will take longer, and you probably won’t get your computer system anytime soon, but you will be showing respect to the dedicated group of people who are trying as hard as they can to do the best thing possible for those who deserve nothing less.

Gail Gordon lives in Nevada City.

Editor’s note: We attempted to reach the county’s Behavioral Health director for a response but did not receive one.


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