On February 3, the Santa Barbara County Mental Health Commission (MHC) held a special meeting to discuss the county’s Department of Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services (ADMHS) budget and policy changes for the upcoming year. The meeting was convened in response in part to massive proposed cuts for mental health services statewide in California.

ADMHS has been trying to put a budget together for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, a task made more and more difficult by the state of the California economy. The governor’s office is more than 90 days late in announcing its budget, and according to ADMHS director Ann Detrick, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed to take $200 million from the statewide mental health services budget to help restart the California economy. That could mean $31 million diverted from mental health care just in Santa Barbara County alone.

Detrick reminded the public that ADMHS has recently reorganized every aspect of its department to maximize both efficiency and accountability. That was done in response to the state’s decision to audit ADMHS due to past discrepancies between services rendered and money requested. Detrick stated that ADMHS has recently been performing an audit of its own to “make sure all state regulations are met, and that all business practices are sound.” According to department representatives, ADMHS has appealed the state audit and are awaiting a reply.

Detrick also called attention to The Mental Health Services Act (MHSA, or Proposition 63), which was passed in 2004 and promised consistent budget increases to California’s mental health services. Though it was hoped to possibly provide some expansion to ADMHS services, the governor has proposed the diversion of MHSA funds elsewhere in the state economy. In addition to this, Detrick warns of a possible delay of up to nine months for the $31 million in state medical payments to ADMHS.

In the face of these budgetary nightmares, ADMHS has been trying to find a way to keep from significantly reducing its services. Detrick said that while cuts have been made to services, her department’s budget has been organized with sustainability in mind. The existing budget has been divided and spread over the next three years, in the hope of averting problems related to inevitable increased state budget cuts.

The meeting also gave county residents an opportunity to comment on current ADMHS services and policies, allowing fans and critics of the department to address the crowd. “What are you doing for people with dual diagnosis who are being sent into jail without being treated?” asked one Santa Barbaran, referring to a girl diagnosed with substance abuse and bipolar disorder who was moved from a psychiatric facility to a correctional facility. Another asked, “Did you know juveniles in correctional facilities are two to four times more likely to develop a need for mental health care?”

To these questions, ADMHS representatives could only say that their resources are being diverted, wherever possible, toward prevention and intervention. With a dwindling budget, prevention is the best policy.

The session ended on a hopeful note, as a man stepped up to the public podium to express his gratitude toward ADMHS for opening an apartment complex on Garden Street to house the homeless and mentally ill. “We wanted someone to be here to say thank you. Thank you,” said the man, emotion evident in his voice. “Thank you so much. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.”


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