The Wednesday, December 19 meeting of the County’s Measure B Mental Health Facilities Advisory Committee featured frequent calls from the members for more research, formal “requests for information,” and other statements of ignorance (including CEO Carmel Angelo’s favorite equivalent remark, “I’m not certain…”
Several members wanted more consideration of the primary recommendations of last summer’s Kemper report. Others wanted their own attorney on hand at meetings because at present they are required to go through the Board of Supervisors to obtain legal opinions, a cumbersome and time-consuming process.
This was odd because the last time the committee asked for a legal opinion — they wanted to know if the County had to comply with Willits city planning and building codes for a possible remodel of Old Howard Hospital — County Counsel Kit Elliott’s official legal opinion was, TA-DA: We have no opinion because no one has officially proposed anything for Willits. (We don’t know how much Ms. Elliott charged the Measure B committee for her opinion that she had no opinion.)
But Ms. Elliott’s dodging of the question made the already muddy question of whether to remodel Old Howard Hospital even more obscure and was Most Unhelpful indeed. Her opinion could have said, “If you were to choose to remodel Old Howard into a Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF) you would (or would not) have to comply with Willits rules and you would (or would not) have to comply with California’s stringent OSHPD (Office of State Health Planning and Development) hospital construction requirements.”
But no; Elliott’s non-opinion left influential Committee Vice Chair Dr. Ace Barash of Willits in the dark about how he wanted to proceed with Old Howard, wondering, especially, how long it might take to remodel Old Howard since OSHPD approval alone can take years.
Oblivious to her overall, much less Measure B, record of non-accomplishment, Elliott’s nearly hilarious record of having no opinion didn’t stop her from showing up at the meeting and offering her legal services to the Committee.
In the end, Committee member/County CEO Carmel Angelo concluded, “We will work on it.”
Sheriff Allman clearly thinks that Measure B was first and foremost meant to fund a PHF and he thinks that Old Howard in Willits is clearly the preferred site for it. But when Allman asked for some kind of motion on Old Howard from his ten other committee members, there was at first a frustrating silence. The silence was followed by statements about what they still didn’t know.
Staffing? We don’t know. Do we need design as well as construction? Or can we use the Margie Handley foundation’s earlier “free” proposal? We don’t know. What physical condition is the underlying Old (and we mean 90 years old) Howard structure in? Could there be rot? Cracks? Hidden damage? We don’t know. What should be first, PHF or crisis treatment? We don’t know. What’s the status of the stalled Orchard Avenue project in Ukiah? We don’t know. How do we blend Measure B activity and facilities with existing County Mental health services? We don’t know. Who would own the property or the building? We don’t know.
Several members said they still hadn’t even finished digesting all the recommendations in the highly praised Kemper report which prioritized crisis prevention, treatment and early intervention over after the fact incarceration.
Several members also said they didn’t want to rush into anything because, as member (and Behavioral Health Board Chair) Jan McGourty said, “Mendocino County has a reputation of not doing things right the first time.”
Dr. Barash said he favored a crisis facility in Ukiah Valley because OSHPD wouldn’t apply so it could be in place for a lot less money and sooner, especially if they keep it under nine beds. He also said that Old Howard, as large as it is, if it’s remodeled at all, should probably include crisis services on top of the PHF locked facility. But proceeding without answering the OSHPD question — Barash said he doubted Old Howard was OSHPD exempt — would take a long time.
Round and round they went until Sheriff Allman finally again asked for a motion on Old Howard.
Silence. No motion on Old Howard.
Next up: the Orchard Avenue crisis facility project which began a coule of years ago but was put in hold when some grant funding didn’t come through. After half an hour of similar mush, Dr. Barash finally made a motion along the lines he’d mentioned earlier: He moved to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that a Request for Proposals (RFP) be released for design and construction of a crisis residential/treatment facility at the Orchard Avenue site that has been sitting undeveloped since it was bought. Now that Measure B money is available, Dr. Barash apparently wants to spend some of it on the Orchard Avenue project.
But no. That wouldn’t fly either. Who would prepare the RFP? The County? (CEO Angelo “wasn’t certain” the County could do it.) Mental Health Services contractor Redwood Community Services (RCS)? (Maybe, but how? Would RCS prepare their own RFP? Then what?)
Finally, Sheriff Allman suggested that the Committee simply endorse whatever the County was doing at Orchard Avenue — and presumably provide the money that the grant would have brought in, perhaps $5 million or $6 million.
Dr. Barash said, Sure, ok, that’s my motion and everyone agreed to simply let the County and Camille Schrader’s private company mental health services company drive the bus to Orchard Avenue — with Measure B money. Interestingly, nobody had any questions about that option.
As the meeting wound down, nobody followed up on the Old Howard remodel questions. Nobody was assigned to answer any of the questions: Does OSHPD apply? What role would the City of Willits have? What’s the old building’s real condition? What kind of services should be housed there besides the locked PHF? How long would it take to complete?
Next year Sheriff Allman turns over the Measure B Chairmanship to Vice Chair Dr. Barash. Dr. Barash genuinly wants to proceed with crisis treatment and crisis residential services and some progress may be made there, questions or not. But that will be up to the County and Camille Schrader now that the Measure B committee has relinquished the project to the Board of Supervisors, County staff and Schrader’s Redwood Quality Management Company.
If Sheriff Allman wants to get the Measure B Committee to focus on remodeling Old Howard, it looks like he’s going to have to get the answers to the committee’s questions all by himself.