Contra Costa County, San Diego County Jails ‘Struggling’ to Address Mental Health Issues
The mental health system in Contra Costa County has become "an overloaded bureaucracy struggling to help some of the county's most fragile residents," the Contra Costa Times reports. About 10,000 county residents seek treatment for mental illness each year, but the county's "mental health options lag behind" those offered in other Bay Area counties. For example, the county has no locked residential facilities for mentally ill individuals who require a "high level" of care; does not have a residential center to treat less acute cases of mental illness; spends $5 million each year to send county residents to other counties to receive treatment; has only 28 mental health treatment beds; and employs only 26 outpatient clinic case managers for the more than 4,400 individuals who have sought treatment this year as of April. As a result, county mental health employees often must allow patients to "walk out the door," leaving many of the county's mentally ill residents to "cycle from homeless shelters to jails to emergency rooms," according to Donna Wigand, director of Contra Costa Mental Health Services (Felsenfeld, Contra Costa Times, 6/2).
In other mental health news, San Diego County faces the "growing challenge" of "how to deal with an increasing number of mentally ill people" in the county's jail system, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. On average, the county's 5,500-inmate jail system holds about 750 individuals with mental illnesses. "The system isn't designed well enough to allow [mentally ill] people to be served and treated medically in a way where they won't be harmed themselves, or harm anyone else," Anton Gerschler, an attorney who represents the family of Carlos Miranda, a 33-year-old mentally ill man who died in restraints in a San Diego County jail, said. William Sparrow, the medical administrator for the jail system, said that treatment of mentally ill inmates has "gotten much better" over the past few years. However, according to Ron Honberg, legal director for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the county must provide "better services for the mentally ill outside of jails and better training and care for them inside jails" (Moran, San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/3).
Meanwhile, a San Jose Mercury News editorial says that reductions for mental health services in Gov. Gray Davis' (D) fiscal year 2002-2003 budget proposal -- the "biggest cut in mental health support since the 1970s" -- would lead to additional expenses and "more human suffering." According to the editorial, mental health programs that "keep emotionally disturbed children in homes instead of in juvenile halls or residential facilities and those that keep homeless adults who are mentally ill out of jails" save money in the short term. The proposed reductions would "devastate" county and state mental health programs, the editorial states. The editorial concludes, "Abandoning the most vulnerable children and adults by reducing programs that have proven to be the most cost-effective just doesn't make sense. Yes, the state is looking at an enormous budget deficit. And every spending area must take a hit. But the state needs to find a way to preserve these programs" (San Jose Mercury News, 6/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.