Cops and care

Advocates condemn diversion of local mental-health funding to law enforcement

Consumers and advocates of mental-health services accused local law-enforcement and mental-health officials of “coercion” and “corruption” last week, angered over the county’s decision to include law-enforcement salaries in its Mental Health Services Act funding plan for 2005-2008.

The accusations were made during a meeting of the state’s Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission—the 16-member board created by Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), passed by voters in 2004.

The act requires each county to submit a plan for review and approval by the state Department of Mental Health, whose decision is guided by the commission, which is charged with ensuring that each plan contains programs that are “innovative, transformative,” and allow for “measurable outcomes.”

(See “Whatever it takes,” SN&R News, January 26; and “Losing Laura,” SN&R News, January 5.)

At stake locally is Sacramento County’s MHSA plan and funding priorities—including the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team, or PERT, program, which pairs law-enforcement officers with mental-health clinicians responsible for responding to people and families in crisis.

The county has asked that $1.2 million be allotted to this program, with $500,000 of that going to pay officers’ salaries. In approving the plan, county supervisors said that while they preferred that law enforcement pay for its share, they believed the PERT program was worthy and hoped to show its value by getting it started.

But it is still unclear whether MHSA monies may be used to pay officers’ salaries for those programs in which law enforcement is partnered with mental-health providers in delivery of mental-health services.

The “who pays for what” question is fraught with tension, and it likely will take a formal legal ruling from the state attorney general to settle the matter.

Commissioners listened to testimony for nearly two hours from mainly Sacramento residents, many associated with the county’s MHSA steering committee and the California Network of Mental Health Clients (CNMHC), who repeatedly objected to the county’s inclusion of the PERT program in its plan to the state.

Regarding the funding of law-enforcement salaries, Meghan Stanton said “no one” on the steering committee was behind that proposal.

“I think political pressures coerced the steering committee and county [board of supervisors] to include them,” said Stanton, executive director of Consumer Self-Help.

Calling the county’s last-minute revision of its MHSA plan “corrupt,” CNMHC member Kathy Trevino added, “We were told that if we didn’t vote to include the PERT program, we’d lose our chance with the entire plan.”

Others expressed problems with Sacramento’s version of a PERT program, funding issues aside.

“There’s a 51-day wait for an RST [regional support team] in Sacramento now!” said Susan Gallagher, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Sacramento.

“So, where’s PERT going to take them except to jail or the hospital? We want funds to be directed to necessary services.”