Behavioral Wellness's Health Care Services building | Credit: Google Maps

The Santa Barbara County supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to extend the agreement between the state’s Department of Healthcare Services (DHCS) and the county’s Behavioral Wellness Department (BeWell) by three years. This means an additional $85 million in state and federal funding for BeWell’s substance-use disorder programs for beneficiaries of Medi-Cal — California’s version of Medicaid — bringing the six-year total maximum contract amount to nearly $170 million for the period of July 2021 to June 2027. 

BeWell offers a comprehensive range of substance-use treatment programs throughout the county, including case management, outpatient treatment, medication-assisted therapy, physician consultations, and recovery support services. This spectrum of care extends to residential treatment for those needing a higher level of intervention and includes perinatal services as well. All eligible individuals — children and adults — can access these resources if needed. 

In 2018, the state took a new approach to offering and funding drug services through Medi-Cal, called “the organized delivery system,” which is used by the county today. This system expanded the county’s offerings to include residential treatment, withdrawal management, and case management services, said BeWell Director Toni Navarro.

Toni Navarro | Credit: Gina DePinto

Not every county uses the organized delivery system, but Navarro said that Santa Barbara County’s program — which serves about 3,000 individuals each year — “has been very successful.” 

“And so, it’s imperative that we keep going,” said Navarro, “in the context of a county that is really struggling with such a fentanyl epidemic … and the rise of methamphetamine.” 

Melissa Wilkins, the division chief for the BeWell Alcohol and Drug Programs, stressed that this contract renewal is “absolutely critical,” as BeWell is the primary provider of substance-use-disorder treatments for county beneficiaries. “This contract … allows us as a county to continue to provide those services,” said Wilkins. 

Navarro said she and her team have seen steady participation and that the program has positively impacted the community. For example, for the 2021 calendar year, Santa Barbara County exceeded the statewide “penetration rate” — a figure comparing the estimated number of Medi-Cal members who have drug-use disorders and qualify for services with the number of those who actually access those services — by nearly 70 percent, according to the fiscal year 2022-23 Behavioral Health External Quality Review

Santa Barbara County’s penetration rate was higher than that of counties of a similar size. (An updated report set to come out in the next few weeks demonstrated similar findings.) Wilkins said that this number does not necessarily reflect the number of active addicts in the county but suggests a significant increase in people who sought help. 

To encourage more people to seek help, BeWell has conducted outreach and education programs to raise community awareness of the potential risks and harms of drug abuse through its “Fentanyl Is Forever” campaign. They also combat mental-health stigmas through their “It’s OK Santa Barbara County” campaign geared toward younger people. 

“The more that we can talk about it and the more we can provide support to those around us,” Wilkins said, “the more likely individuals are to get help when they need it.” 

To access Bewell’s services, call the 24-hour toll-free access line at 888-868-1649. For a medical emergency, call 9-1-1. For more information, visit

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