MENTAL HEALTH CARE: Reforms Could Save California Money, Improve Lives of Ill
An editorial in yesterday's Los Angeles Times claims that California has "disgracefully failed" to treat the mentally ill. The editors argue that reforms could save the state money and afford "better lives for the ill." Spearheaded by civil rights advocates in the 1960s, California liberalized the "restrictive setting" for many mentally ill patients and agreed to stop warehousing. "California, however, also promised to continue caring for the mentally ill with community-based counseling, job training, housing assistance and general 'life coaching,'" the editors write. But "far too many of the severely mentally ill are ignored until they lash out against themselves, or others" because of a lack of treatment and support. State legislators say that California simply cannot afford the estimated $2.4 billion needed to provide care through public insurance like Medi-Cal and county-based clinics. The editors, however, contend that policymakers and legislators are wrong because the state "ends up caring for the mentally ill one way or another." The editors add that most of the state's approximately 30,000 homeless mentally ill residents "end up cycling in and out of the criminal justice system" costing California almost $1.8 billion a year. As a solution, the paper contends the state should look to "wrap-around" programs that provide a variety of social and medical services. This fall, Gov. Gray Davis passed a small, pilot version of a bill which would have offered a continuum of care for the mentally ill, including group housing, therapy, daily supervision and job assistance. The original bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), would have spent $350 million on "wrap-around" programs. The bill was gutted by some state legislators who argued that wrap-around interventions were unproven. Regardless of the political posturing involved with the issue, the editors conclude that such programs "trod a sensible middle ground, helping the mentally ill find the housing, medication and other wrap-around support they need to live productive lives" (Los Angeles Times, 11/23).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.