VENTURA COUNTY: Mental Health Funds Siphoned to Public Hospital
Sunday's Los Angeles Times reported that Ventura County has been siphoning off up to $4 million annually from mental health funds to the county's health agency, compounding recent controversy over the debt-ridden mental health system's reorganization. The transfers were within the "legal authority" of the board, but raised questions about the fairness of the moves. While the total amount of funds reallocated by the county Board of Supervisors remains uncertain, the annual transfers constituted up to 8% of the Behavioral Health Department's yearly budget. County Chief Administrator Lin Koester insisted that the transfers were legitimate, and that "it is not mental health money. ... It's a revenue stream that as far as I know has been used in accordance with law." But Mental Health Board Chair John Chaudier "questioned the fairness of funneling money to one department at the expense of another," the Times reported.
The fund-shifting was discovered in an audit by the California Mental Health Planning Council following the failed merger between the county's mental health and social services department. Ann Arneill-Py, executive director of the council, said that a sales-tax-funded mental health trust fund that was drained "was intended to stabilize mental health budgets that were slashed during the '80s." She added that "Ventura County was among 17 that had made at least one transfer without providing proper documentation." Other "revenue streams" in question were Medi-Cal reimbursements, 28% of which were derived from psychiatric hospitals, and "money charged to the Behavioral Health Department for meals, medications and laboratory services" (Saillant, 3/14). Supervisor John Flynn defended the transfers, saying they help the county hospital meet administrative costs that are derived partly from the mental health department (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 3/15).