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Mental Health Act funds create help-first system
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Standing in front of a group of Kiwanis Club of Turlock members at the Hometown Buffet conference room was a volunteer from the Stanislaus County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This local teacher shared with the service club members her own personal struggle with mental illness — its affects on her work, her home life and social activities.

Her personal experiences were followed by a question and answer time meant to educate the Kiwanis Club members and hopefully erase some of the stigma that comes with the term “mental illness.”

The 15 or so Kiwanis members were just a few of the 1,302 county residents that took part in the In Our Own Voice program last year. IOOV is one of 18 prevention and early intervention programs funded by the Stanislaus County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services through Proposition 63 funds.

In November 2004, residents of California passed Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act. The law provides funding to counties to transform the public health system through a 1 percent tax on income greater than $1 million a year.

This transformation was meant to take place through the funding of programs in community services, prevention and early intervention, innovative programs, capital facilities and technological needs and workforce education and training.

The prevention and early intervention category — which is mandated to receive 20 percent of MHSA funding — has been under scrutiny recently.

Assemblyman Dan Logue told the Associated Press on Monday that he will call for oversight hearings and an audit on Prop 63 funds, while Assemblyman Brian Nestande said he will support legislation clarifying how the money can be used. Both Republicans sit on the Assembly Health Committee.

"The resources are desperately needed," Logue, R-Linda, told the AP. "I think what everybody's looking at is this thing needs to be tightened up with oversight. You need to analyze the programs to see, 'Are they effective?'"

Proposition 63 has brought in $7.4 billion and nearly $1.2 billion has gone to prevention and early intervention programs while California's overall spending on mental health services has fallen dramatically.

In Stanislaus County, BHRS administrators and NAMI president Judy Kropp believe the prevention and early intervention programs funded through Prop 63 is money well spent.

“I have watched over the years as Stanislaus County has been extremely careful to help people of all walks of life,” said Kropp, who was one of the hundreds of stakeholders that were involved in the MHSA planning process with the county. “The county was early in requesting funds, and very responsible, I think, in the whole process.”

There’s no question that the need is great for funding of treatment and support services for county residents diagnosed with severe mental illness — in 2008 BHRS had to close three of its mental health clinics, those in Oakdale, Ceres and Patterson, due to budget cuts.

“The number of people we serve is down as a result of years of budget cuts,” said BHRS associate director Adrian Carroll. “But the primary care and support group MHSA funds are helping to soften the blow.”

Through MHSA prevention and early intervention funding, community members are trained and given resources on hosting support groups. Behavioral health clinicians have also been placed in primary care clinics throughout the county to provide better access to mental health care in more non-stigmatizing settings.

“We’re making a strategic investment in a help-first system,” said prevention and early intervention administrator for the county, Ruben Imperial.

In the 2010-11 fiscal year, Stanislaus County expended $3,251,500 on prevention and early intervention programs — and over $9 million of MHSA funds on service and support for those diagnosed with a serious mental illness or series emotional disturbance.

The prevention and early intervention programs target underserved communities and most incorporate partnerships with other organizations. There are programs to address trauma associated with child sexual abuse, and counselors who visit older adults facing changes in their lives.

Two programs are being implemented in area schools — Nurtured Heart Program in Patterson that is designed to create a positive school culture; and Creating Lasting Student Success in Modesto City Schools, which helps families and education professionals identify the key warning signs of early-onset mental illness in children.

 “MHSA was to transform mental health services,” said BHRS directory Madelyn Schlaepfer. “You can’t be doing the same thing and transform.”