State grants to benefit mental health care in Sacramento County

12/01/2012 12:00 AM

12/05/2012 11:43 AM

After several painful rounds of cutbacks, mental health funding in Sacramento County appears to be bouncing back, with the first of several expected rounds of state grants announced Friday.

Four organizations in Sacramento County will receive a total of almost $400,000 in grants announced by the Respite Partnership Collaborative, a group formed last April.

The collaborative, composed of the county Division of Behavioral Health Services and other stakeholders, was charged with sifting through piles of proposed innovative programs to provide mental health respite care to those in crisis.

The programs are meant, in part, to reduce the number of people having to rely on emergency departments in hospitals, which admittedly are ill-equipped to care for severely mentally ill people.

Often, someone in crisis who ends up in the hospital is strapped to a gurney in a hallway for days, waiting for the worst to pass.

To avoid this, Sacramento County is tapping into a state funding stream to increase mental health respite service options and offer alternatives to hospitalization.

"This funding will support innovative and wide-reaching solutions that offer a critical 'time out' for community members to take a break," said Chet P. Hewitt, Sierra Health Foundation president. "They move us significantly closer to meeting acute mental health needs while easing emergency room overcrowding in Sacramento County."

The foundation's Center for Health Program Management has assumed a key role in administering the state funds, which flow from the state Mental Health Services Act coffers.

The act, passed by voters in 2004 as Proposition 63, added innovation as a category of funding to encourage new thinking on ways to help provide severely mentally ill people with alternatives to psychiatric hospitalization.

The next round of state innovation funding in Sacramento County is expected to be announced in the spring, with more to follow.

"It's a step forward," said John Buck, executive director of Turning Point Community Programs, which shared in the grant funding.

"But some feet are not moving as fast as others," Buck said, referring to a need to swiftly counteract damage by earlier cutbacks.

Turning Point will help create a new respite care center of supportive housing for the mentally ill, including a facility with five beds, a communal kitchen and living area. The center is new to Sacramento County, and represents a more informal supportive living model with therapists off site.

Mental health consumers could stay at the center for several days, coming and going, while receiving enough peer support to avoid a crisis.

Compared to crisis treatment in a hospital setting, the respite center would be "a warm and fuzzy nest for people who would otherwise be sitting in an emergency room – anxious and stressed," Buck said.

Founded in 1976, Turning Point will work with Welcome Home Housing and the National Alliance on Mental Illness to teach individuals and their caregivers how to develop new skills to cope with future mental crises and avoid relapse.

In addition to Turning Point, Capital Adoptive Family Alliance, Del Oro Caregiver Resource Center and United lu-Mien Community Inc. are receiving Proposition 63 innovation funding in this round.

The United lu-Mien Community will serve Mien clients in a culturally appropriate manner – a challenging task since the Mien lack words in their language for mental health or mental illness.

Generations of Mien are believed to suffer some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder, whether from wars they fled, immigration or acculturation, said Myel Jenkins, program officer for the Respite Partners Collaborative.

The Del Oro Caregiver Resource Center plans to try to ease the stress of those who care for dementia patients. Caregivers will be taught ways to stabilize their situations.

And the Capital Adoptive Family Alliance plans to attempt to improve family stability by providing summer family respite camps and other planned respite activities for adoptive parents and their emotionally disturbed children, Jenkins said.

Mary Ann Carrasco is deputy director of the Sacramento County Division of Behavioral Health Services. She said she's seen tough times, especially in October 2010, when budget shortfalls forced the county into reducing the number of beds in its Mental Health Treatment Center from 100 to 50.

At the same time, Sacramento County had to close its crisis stabilization unit, which has "caused a huge gap in programs in our county," Carrasco said.

"We're hoping that this will help bridge the gap," she said. "We're very excited about the innovative part of this."

The innovative part, it turns out, allows for allocation of Proposition 63 funds through a new community collaborative model – in this case, led by the independent, nonprofit Sierra Health Foundation Center for Health Program Management, she said.

Editor's Note: This article has been changed from an earlier version to note that the United lu-Mien Community will serve Mien clients. Corrected on Dec. 5, 2012.


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