Ventura County Supervisor Announces a Plan to Improve Mental Health Care
With thousands of mentally ill Ventura County residents "walking the streets" or "locked up in overcrowded" jails, Supervisor John Flynn urged law enforcement, churches, courts and elected officials to end the "immoral condition" of state mental health services Monday, the Ventura County Star reports. In a report to the county Mental Health Board, supervisors, court officials and Sheriff Bob Brooks, Flynn outlined a plan to lobby for additional state funding and to provide treatment for all county residents suffering from mental illness. The proposal, based largely on a "scathing" report issued last month by the Little Hoover Commission, would:
- fast-track construction of a regional housing and treatment center for the mentally ill and contract with private firms to provide mental health facilities across the county;
- decriminalize the mental health system over the next decade;
- advise and educate county residents on the problems facing the mentally ill through public hearings (Koehler, Ventura County Star, 12/19);
- provide financial assistance to parents who care for mentally ill family members at home;
- improve "quality control" and "more clearly" define goals for the county's Behavioral Health Department;
- boost the number of psychiatric doctors; and
- "integrate" mental health crisis teams with law enforcement agencies.
To fund the proposal, Flynn said the county could use $10 million in tobacco settlement funds in addition to state and federal grants. He also plans to hold a countywide public meeting of law enforcement officials and mental health experts before launching the plan (Kelly, Los Angeles Times, 12/19). "In order to bring about change, we need to add voices -- and all of our voices need to become much louder and our comments solution oriented," Flynn said (Ventura County Star, 12/19).
During the meeting, Flynn criticized county officials for only paying "lip service" to the problems facing the mentally ill. "As an elected official, I cannot stand by and simply witness so many people giving only lip service to this most pressing issue. They need to be awakened by what I personally classify as a moral issue of the highest order," he said. Flynn's proposal "took some by surprise" (Los Angeles Times, 12/19). County Chief Administrative Officer Harry Hufford called the plan a "legislative vision with teeth," but warned that enacting the proposal would require "a lot of work." Sheila Gonzalez, the county courts' executive officer, called the plan "a great first step," noting, "This is an issue that is of major concern" (Ventura County Star, 12/19). In addition, David Gudeman, director of the Behavioral Health Department, backed the proposal. "It's really gratifying to have an elected official understand these issues," he said (Los Angeles Times, 12/19). According to the California Mental Health Planning Council, about 8,000 to 10,000 Ventura County adults suffering from mental illnesses do not receive proper services (Ventura County Star, 12/19).