Mendocino County had a host of problems delivering mental health services long before privatization. County staff turnover and the inability to recruit sufficient qualified workers were key issues then and remain key issues today.
In 2011, Mendocino County spent more on average per mental health patient than any California county except Santa Cruz County; and it was third highest in median cost per patient.
Despite this high spending, the county was not delivering the timely service this vulnerable population needed. It was also failing in its fiscal duty to recover costs from the state and federal programs which were supposed to provide 100% of the funding.
In 2012, the county did not have the wherewithal to make the technological leap required and it lacked sufficient skilled workers to fix it. Our county’s mental health staff was ravaged by recession cost cutting, compounded by learning its functions might be privatized and that there might be layoffs. It is not surprising that a significant number of talented county workers left to find other employment.
This made privatization look like an easy fix. It was presumed that any contractor would have access to a network of trained personnel and would have the organization and the technology to coordinate and provide mental health care to those dependent upon county services. It was also assumed that any contractor dependant upon payment from federal and state programs, would keep on top of payment procedures.
Clearly, in hindsight, it seems likely the county could have done a better job choosing its contractors. At least one hopes so.
Mendocino County is but one of the rural California counties lacking both the facilities and sufficient mental health professionals to treat patients. Nearly half of California counties have no adult beds for mental health patients and nearly two-thirds have no beds for children.
It is unlikely the county has the needed staff to fix the county’s mental health system by itself. What its staff can do is look critically at its own organization and failings and bring to light the systemic problems that need fixing. Too many issues have been shoved into the closet, hidden from view by rosy presentations and slideshows.
We hope the upcoming Kemper report is a no-holds-barred examination of Mendocino County’s mental health program and that the county administration embraces it — warts and all.
Too often criticism brings out the worst in our county administration and Board of Supervisors. We have become accustomed to never ending excuses and the bluster of supervisors attempting to defend the indefensible.
Unlike many of the issues faced by this board, this one really is a matter of life or death. Please defend the defenseless, do not defend the bureaucracy. Let’s find a way out of this mess that some call the greatest public safety issue in our county today.
(Linda Williams is the Editor of the The Willits News. Courtesy, the Willits News.)