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Behavioral Health services cut, expanded

POSTED August 4, 2009 10:33 p.m.
One minute, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors agreed to accept $7.8 million from the California Department of Mental Health to fund new Behavioral Health Prevention and Early Intervention programs. Then, just a few minutes later, the Board voted to oust four county employees from positions whose salaries had been paid for years by a now-canceled state program.
“Looks like the state government gives with one hand and takes with another,” said District 5 Supervisor and Chairman of the Board Jim DeMartini.
The $7.8 million for Prevention and Early Intervention comes in the form of Prop 63 funds, a 2004 voter approved measure that institutes a 1 percent tax on millionaires to fund mental health services. The money will pay for seven county employees and 18 new programs in eight areas as part of a curriculum, “called exemplary by state reviewers,” according to Behavioral Health and Resource Services Director Denise Hunt.
“There are no feel good programs in here unless they’ve also been shown to work,” Hunt said.
All of the targeted areas, ranging from Community Capacity Building to Adult Resiliency and Social Connectedness and Adverse Childhood Experience Interventions, are intended to provide community-based, low intensity, short duration assistance to individuals of all ages and their families.
In Our Own Voice, a public education program developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the only new program formally identified at this point. The program calls for two trained speakers who have struggled with mental illnesses to share their personal stories of living with the disease and achieving recovery.
Given the potential unreliability of funding based on the taxation of millionaires, the county is electing not to build new infrastructure with the Prop 63 funds, instead opting to contract with community service providers. The county also chose to keep as much money in reserves as possible under Prop 63 laws.
The BHRS cutbacks will come in the form of Prop 36 Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act funds, which were stricken from the state’s budget this year. The program funded and mandated treatment for nonviolent drug offenders, but was criticized from the start by law enforcement officials for lacking teeth.
However, while state funding has been cut, the Prop 36 mandate for probation and treatment remains.
According to Stanislaus County Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers, the lack of funding will now allow convicted nonviolent drug offenders to leave court with no case management, just a piece of paper listing all drug treatment programs.
Offenders will then be required to pick a program appropriate for their level of addiction, attend the program for a year or more, pay for the program themselves, and then return to court and state they’ve completed the program, all of their own volition. If an offender drops out, he or she would be expected to return to court and say why, again with no enforcement.
Powers said that, on average, a person in the current program is 36 years of age with 10 prior arrests, five previous convictions, and has spent 230 days in custody. Most are addicted to methamphetamines and 18 percent have previously been sentenced to state prison.
Currently more than 500 offenders are in Stanislaus County’s Prop 36 program. An additional 250 should be involved, but have absconded. At best, one probation officer will oversee all 500 offenders, Powers said.
Prop 36 offenders will no longer have priority for treatment. Sentenced individuals will be treated as common community members, required to sit on waiting lists for services, and will be charged accordingly.
According to Hunt, the county serves 756 Prop 36 clients annually. She expects the additional workload will result in a lengthier waiting lists for most substance abuse services.
Programming at Stanislaus Recovery Center will also be impacted, as Prop 36 funds pay for about 15 percent of the SRC budget. Some part-time hours will be reduced and currently unfilled positions will be held vacant.
Four full-time BHRS employees currently funded by Prop 36 funds will be transferred to other positions within BHRS until the state clarifies the budget situation.
BHRS is holding out hope that the program may still receive some funding through other state or federal sources. One current proposal would see the state gain $45 million in federal stimulus funding for those on probation with substance abuse issues, but even that would not come close to funding the current level of services statewide.
However, BHRS staff have known for some time that funding would one day dry up for Prop 36, which offered only three years of guaranteed funding following its 2000 approval. The state government has steadily cut back funding since its requirement to fully fund the program was waved, and has been increasingly disapproving of the Prop 36 program in recent years.
“Prop 36 has been teetering on the brink since virtually day one,” Powers said.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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