Calif. Could Be Model for Federal Mental Health Efforts, Steinberg Says


Last month, experts and lawmakers said the federal government should consider using California's strategy for mental health care as a model for the U.S., AP/U-T San Diego reports.

The suggestion comes after lawmakers and advocacy groups  called for increased focus on mental health care services and funding, following the mass murder at a Connecticut elementary school. 

California voters in 2004 passed the Mental Health Services Act, which levied a special tax on high-income residents. The money has been used to help 60,000 state residents, with 20% dedicated to prevention and early intervention.

Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg  last month sent a letter to Vice President Biden -- whom President Obama has called on to oversee a review of gun control legislation and gun violence -- urging him to consider California's program as a template for national mental health initiatives. Steinberg in a press conference also suggested that the federal government agree to match money raised by states to create a national mental health system.

Steinberg's proposal is supported by several lawmakers, including Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), who recently sponsored the Excellence in Mental Health Act (HR 5989).

However, Jessica Cruz, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-California, said the federal government should do even more to fund mental health services (Thompson, AP/U-T San Diego, 12/20/12).

Call To Reauthorize Mental Health Agency

In related news, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) in an opinion piece last month called on Congress to reauthorize the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which has not been reauthorized since 2000, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.

SAMHSA, an HHS agency, was created in 1992 to study mental health issues and provide grants for behavioral health care.

Blunt wrote that "[f]ederal focus -- and the dollars that follow -- must facilitate proactive and cohesive collaboration across other agencies that work with the mentally ill and their caregivers" (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 12/20/12).

Antoinette May
Voters passed Prop 63 in 2004, and it was implemented in 2005. Since then it has generated $8 billion with very little oversight and accountabilty. Now Senator Darrell Steinberg, who co-authored the bill, is heading an 'audit'. He is definitely the wrong person to do this as he cannot be objective. Even before the investigation he was already saying that 'the majority of the money has been well spent.' In Santa Cruz County the money is used to fund the Health Services Agency, supplying such services as busing the handicapped and keeping Asperger (not a mental illness) children on Risperdal and in unnecessary programs which bring in thousands of MHSA dollars yearly. All the while, seriously mentally ill people - for whom the bill was intended - walk the the streets of Santa Cruz County, homeless. We can expect nothing from Senator Steinberg. A.T. May
Nancy E. Connolly
Mental Health services are abysmal nationally not just in CA. My experience as a healthcare professional and the sister of a brain diseased brother with schizophrenia in CA, is consistent with all of the above comments. The police departments are bearing the brunt of the poor care given to MH patients. They need relief. I implemented the CA Telemedicine network and then co-authored a book in Mental Health and technology to provide info so services could be more broadly disseminated throughout the delivery system. One large area for consideration and additional development is the linking of MH services from prisons/jails to the community based support and follow-up that is needed to assist this population and their families. We need to keep a clear focus on the outcomes and hold our legislature and state officials accountable. Without this more deaths will occur - and as a society the choice should be clear - not acting is untenable. Nancy E. Brown Connolly
Michael McLeran
The Lanterman Act (LPS) and subsequent rule making have given the mentally so many rights they have been righted right onto the streets. The fat cats in Sacremento closed the state hospitals in a major money grab and destroyed the only treatment program(s) that actually had positive outcomes. The mentally ill now suffer the consequences of this legislative stupidity. There is no quick fix. Please remember elections do have consequences, this massive problem is but one of them.
Marsha Grant
I have to say I agree Mary. There are bettter models of care and uses of funding out there, Massachusetts is one. How those funds were/are being spent in CA is under question. Much more assistance could go to the State Hospital systems or even local housing to create beds and improve quality of life and care outcomes. Jails and Prisons are swamped and struggling, I can't think of any one who would call California a "model"
Mary Ziegenhagen
Are they kidding? Mental health seems pretty much left up to Police Departments in local jurisdictions of California. Homeless mentally ill people roam the streets while the money appropriated by the State seems to get sopped up in "planning," monitoring (counting, adding, and concluding) the work of volunteers and generally holding out hope for more community services in the future. I wouldn't recommend this system to any other state.

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