Behavioral Health gets a boost
Department adding services for inmates, elderly and others
In more than two decades of police work as an officer and administrator, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea has witnessed firsthand the impact mental health issues have on law enforcement efforts.
“[Mental health] is clearly a big concern at the jail,” Honea said during a recent interview. “The fact is, a good number of people in jail have mental health issues, many of which are co-occurring and related to substance abuse; there are a number of cases where that contributes to why people end up in jail in the first place.
“Once they’re in that position, it’s much more difficult and challenging for us, not just to provide a place for them to be incarcerated, but to also address those inmates’ behavioral health and substance abuse issues.”
The county jail is currently served by one half-time behavioral health clinician, but a new staffing plan for the county’s Department of Behavioral Health for the 2015-16 fiscal year allows for that position to be full-time. The change is minor compared with 17 total new staff allocated to that department in the county’s budget, but Honea believes it can have a major positive impact.
“Having a full-time staff member on hand to coordinate with corrections personnel and the jail’s medical service will help to better address their needs,” Honea said, noting the increase in jail service is something he and Behavioral Health Director Dorian Kittrell have been working to make a reality for the past year. “They’ll be able to collaborate and coordinate care for patients Behavioral Health has already been seeing, and better treat them when they come in. It will also hopefully provide more continuity of care when they are released.”
Kittrell outlined some of the other changes coming up in his department during a recent phone interview. Altogether, new personnel will include two nurses or psychiatric technicians, five clinicians, five counselors, a clinical services program manager, and four clerical staff members to assist with switching the department’s medical records into an electronic format.
The bulk of the new hires—a total of eight counselors and clinicians—will be assigned to provide 24/7 intensive assistance for the department’s elderly clients. Though those staff members will be based out of Behavioral Health outpatient clinics in Gridley, Oroville, Paradise and Chico, Kittrell said the majority of their work will be done in the field.
“Many of the people we’ve been serving over the years are getting older, and some have developed physical issues that make it much more difficult for them to get the care they need,” Kittrell said. “With these older adults, we intend to take our services to them.”
In addition to increased staff, Behavioral Health is also getting a new facility.
“By far the biggest change [in the next 12 months] will be the Crisis Residential Program, which we hope will open up next January, just after the beginning of the new year,” Kittrell said.
The facility will provide a home-like environment with 10 beds capable of housing behavioral health clients in the midst of mental health crises for up to 30 days, Kittrell explained. The program will be voluntary and available to patients who’ve been determined not to be a threat to themselves or others. It will provide an alternative to hospitalization at the county’s psychiatric health facility (commonly called the Puff Unit) for subacute patients needing less intensive but round-the-clock care. Kittrell said the property slated to house the facility is currently in escrow.
The new facility will be funded by an $867,425 grant awarded to Butte, Sutter, Yuba, Glenn and Tehama counties to start such programs. The grant money comes from the state’s Mental Health Services Act, a 2004 law that placed a 1 percent tax on personal incomes exceeding more than $1 million annually, with the monies earmarked for new and expanded mental health programs. Kittrell said that once it is up and running, the Crisis Residential Program will be supported by Medi-Cal funds.
Behavioral Health is also eliminating two vacant positions. According to the county’s budget for 2015-16, which the Board of Supervisors is on track to approve July 8, personnel adjustments throughout other departments will lead to a net increase of only one new county employee paid for by the general fund.