We cannot ignore the mentally ill | TheUnion.com

We cannot ignore the mentally ill

Now that “Laura’s Law” AB-1421 has been signed into law by Gov. Davis, we must look at the next step.

This law is focused on getting treatment to the mentally ill who have slipped through the cracks of the current process established for their care by counties and states for the past 30 years. It will be possible to treat more of the people who have avoided the system with court-mandated treatment policies and input from loved ones, but here is the Catch 22: If you don’t have good outpatient programs and you don’t have any local inpatient program, then how do you treat all these new-found clients and keep them in the community?

State budget cuts and the economy of the United States have put the skids to many projected future improvements for treatment of the mentally ill. Nevada County is a prime example of rural America’s treatment for the mentally ill. Lack of psychiatrists and therapy treatment time doesn’t allow the mentally ill to really improve, but keeps them at a minimal stable state. If they miss appointments or stop taking medicine, then it’s a small step back to disorder and delusions that are caused by their disease. Since this type of system does not have the manpower to follow up treatment in the community, the mentally ill fall into the “revolving door” treatment you read so much about.

What can be done about it? Three major ingredients would be the establishment of a drop-in clinic, behavioral health team treatment approach, and a in-county crisis unit.

“Spirit,” the local peer counseling nonprofit, has had an ongoing program and is right now looking for a building to set up a full-time center. The future success on the treatment of the mentally ill is really in the hands of these peers, who can network with the system and the treated and untreated to help keep them functioning in society. By keeping individuals in our community with jobs, activities, companionship and care, we free up monies now being thrown away with the “revolving door” policies.

Nevada County Behavioral Health has stepped up and backed this program with not only some staff at times, but are willing to pay the rent for the first year to get the program on its feet. With this support they need local community support, private funding and events to keep the ship afloat.

Bob Erickson, mental health director of Nevada County’s Behavioral Health Department, has put into place three groups of social workers, therapists and psychiatrists that treat each mentally ill person, with all of the groups working to help each client to get the best treatment available in our community. Best treatment in our community needs major help.

Behavioral Health and nonprofits such as Nevada County chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and Minds in Recovery are looking at the possibilities for a future crisis-type unit in Nevada County.

If the Board of Supervisors could allocate a portion of the $6.5 million surplus in the Nevada County’s budget to help establish a in-county crisis unit and the $6.5 million already being spent by the Behavioral Health Department on the established programs in mental health could shift, allowing support for this type of operation, then no monies should be needed.

Odyssey, our in-county transitional house, is spending about $600,000 a year for a 10-bed facility. (Our previous six-bed facility spent $25,000 a year.) Lovett, the alcohol and drug treatment program, is spending about $520,000 a year. The county spent about $500,000 on long-term out-of-county treatment. The county spent about $200,000 on 5,150 facilities (short-term) out of county. We need to evaluate these expenditures and see if we can fine-tune our programs without a lot of duplicatied treatment, in order to allow in-county crisis treatment.

Recently our county, with the assistance of Izzy Martin and the Wilcox family, helped to bring in an additional $400,000 that could partly be used to help establish a crisis facility. The state budget cuts and overall depression state of our government will not make this an easy project. Much needed private sector support, grants and our churches will be the key to success.

Nevada County citizens cannot just stand by and ignore this situation, as the increase in population will only make it worse unless we start correcting it ourselves. Stand up; be counted. It is time to help! In-county treatment enhances programs and creates in-county jobs, allowing closer care for our loved ones in times of need.

Randy Hansen is host and producer of “Is This As Good As It Gets?” a mental health awareness program on Foothills Community Access Television, and is a member of the Nevada County Mental Health Board, the Nevada County Drug and Alcohol Advisory Board, the Nevada County chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and the Council of Advisors for Minds in Recovery. He is also the owner of Grass Valley Blues in Grass Valley.

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