San Diego County Officials Discuss Allocation Options for Mental Health Funding
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved changes to the way the county provides mental health services, including the elimination of 68 staff positions, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The county Mental Health Board, an advisory body for the supervisors, on Thursday voted 6-0 with one abstention to oppose the changes, which are part of a strategy to address a $13 million to $14 million budget deficit for mental health programs.
Twenty-two of the eliminated positions were vacant at the time the Board of Supervisors reached its decision. Of the remaining 46 positions being eliminated, 41 will be assigned to other jobs in the county.
In addition, the board approved the privatization of two mental health clinics. Mental Health Systems, a private health care provider, won two bids and will operate mental health clinics in Oceanside and Escondido.
The board selected operators for the clinics based on bids submitted by private agencies and a team of county employees organized by Service Employees International Union Local 2028 in a "managed competition" arrangement, according to the Union-Tribune.
SEIU won bids to operate five other mental health clinics, meaning that county employees will continue to staff those facilities.
The managed competition is expected to save the county about $7.6 million annually.
Alfredo Aguirre, head of the county's mental health services, said no services will be eliminated because of the privatization.
Mental Health Board member Judith Yates said, "The process was done fairly and equitably, but the results are nonetheless frightening."
Karen Mason, a county social worker who will be reassigned to a different job, said, "I'm concerned about the reduction of care that may occur as a result of selling our services to the lowest bidder."
Supervisor Dianne Jacobs said, "There's always fear of change. The key to success here is monitoring and supervision of this program."
County CEO Walt Ekard said, "Getting a new doctor and a new health plan always promotes concern by people in need, but change in this case is necessary" (Heller, San Diego Union-Tribune, 4/20).
In related news, San Diego County mental health officials are holding public workshops through May 3 to discuss ideas for using mental health funding provided by Proposition 63, the Union-Tribune reports. San Diego County's annual share of the funds is expected to be about $40 million.
Piedad Garcia, director of systems of care for the county Mental Health Services Division of the Health & Human Services Agency, said Proposition 63 funding will increase the department's budget by about 20%.
According to the Union-Tribune, meeting participants have discussed:
- Increasing services to seniors in their communities and improving efforts to inform seniors of existing programs;
- Providing additional housing for people with mental illnesses;
- Increasing mental health services for children and young adults; and
- Expanding family oriented services (Heller, San Diego Union-Tribune, 4/19).