After suffering major cuts during the last recession, Sacramento County’s mental health programs are finally bouncing back with an influx of state money that will more than double the number of beds for people needing crisis mental health care.
The California Health Facilities Financing Authority approved a $5.7 million grant, with the money going directly toward the opening of three new 15-bed crisis residential treatment facilities. Sacramento County Behavioral Health Services has allocated an additional $6 million from its own budget for treatment programs in the new buildings.
The financing authority approved a similar grant in February, prompting the construction of a 15-bed facility that is set to open in December in Rio Linda. That project, combined with the facilities funded by the new grant, will result in 60 new crisis beds soon in Sacramento. The county now provides 50 beds at its Mental Health Treatment Center.
Such facilities are vital for people in mental health crises who lack a consistent care provider, said Darrell Steinberg, former Senate president pro tem who is now director of policy and advocacy for the new UC Davis Behavioral Health Center of Excellence.
These patients, most of them uninsured, would typically show up in emergency rooms in severe distress, and personnel there may not be appropriately trained to treat them, he said.
In 2013, Steinberg helped pass Senate Bill 82, which provided funding to the California Health Facilities Financing Authority for distribution to counties. Seeing those local programs come to fruition, with more facilities to come, gives hope of reducing the gap in mental health services, he said.
“People cycle in and out of ERs and jail and the street,” Steinberg said. “The biggest problem we have in the mental health system is the lack of continuity of care. These dollars are the beginning of addressing that continuity, so people aren’t part of this vicious cycle of getting attention only when they suffer a crisis.”
Some of the most recent funding will go toward a program to help establish community-based services to prevent mental health crises.
In an earlier granting cycle, the housing authority awarded the county $509,000 for mobile crisis support teams. The teams, made up of mental health clinicians, people living with or recovering from mental illness and law enforcement officers, work in the downtown and south Sacramento areas to address crises and link residents to services. They have been operating since April.
The county also received $1.3 million for mental health system navigators, who will be stationed at the main county jail, the Loaves & Fishes homeless shelter and emergency rooms to connect people with mental health issues to services. They are expected to start later this summer.
The county’s emergency department visiting rate is 20 percent higher than the rest of the state and is still growing. Visits increased by 10 percent from 2013 to 2014 to about 525,000 and have grown by more than 80 percent over the past decade, according to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
The rising number of mental health case admissions to emergency rooms has been especially troubling, with the total growing by 47 percent throughout the state but by 93 percent in Sacramento County between 2006 and 2011, the California Hospital Association reported.
Health advocates have tied the jump to the slashing of mental health services in 2009, when the county closed its crisis stabilization unit and eliminated 50 of 100 beds at its treatment center. In its 2015 report, released in June, the Sacramento County grand jury dedicated a chapter to the county’s “shameful legacy of neglect” of the mentally ill, citing increased burdens to community hospitals and law enforcement since the cuts.
In the years since, that gap, especially for the county’s uninsured, has been filled by a patchwork of nonprofits, including WellSpace Health, which has its own navigators in Sutter Health emergency departments and a network of clinics.
Jonathan Porteus, WellSpace CEO, said the additional county resources will let his organization focus on other health care areas, while freeing up beds in already overcrowded emergency rooms.
Beyond that, the new funding will help patients feel more empowered in their own recovery when they’re placed in a crisis center with mental health professionals rather than in a hospital or jail, Porteus said. In particular, people can use the centers to get on a consistent care plan.
“When they work closely with a team and identify symptoms and triggers, they can take appropriate action before they get into a hospital,” he said. “We’re reshaping the culture. That’s the dream.”