Another View: Mental health money is well spent

Publicly available data unequivocally show that implementation of the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act meets the intent of voters: reducing homelessness, incarceration, and emergency room use by Californians with serious mental illness.

Unfortunately, a Little Hoover Commission report, and a Bee editorial, give the wrong impression that mental health services oversight lacks teeth (“Yet again, mental health funding act gets slammed,” Editorials, Jan. 29).

A different view on these opinion pages uses the same report to argue that the state has overstepped its authority (“Mental health money ‘fix’ will compound the problem,” Viewpoints, Feb. 3).

Counties are charged with implementing the mandates of Proposition 63, and see and report data on the positive changes that the Mental Health Services Act has had on communities.

Counties collect and report robust data that show who is served and the outcomes of Mental Health Services Act investments. The data are presented annually to county boards of supervisors, the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission and the Department of Health Care Services.

Publicly available information is on the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission website; it shows that people served by the “full service partnerships,” the most intensive programs and the largest Mental Health Services Act investment, have experienced a 58 percent reduction in homelessness, a 39 percent reduction in hospitalizations and a 47 percent decrease in incarcerations. The data also show that this investment pays off because averted jail and hospital stays result in savings nearly equal to full service partnership costs.

In Sacramento, the investment in this “whatever it takes” approach brings together housing, medical care and social services. The results speak for themselves:

▪ Hospitalizations decreased by 43 percent.

▪ Arrests decreased by 73 percent.

▪ Incarcerations decreased 59 percent.

▪ Homeless episodes fell by 86 percent.

▪ Days spent homeless decreased by 92 percent.

In addition to helping people with serious mental illness, the Mental Health Services Act helps prevent mental illness and offers early intervention services for people experiencing their first mental health crisis. These early intervention programs save huge amounts of taxpayer funds that would have to be spent elsewhere if mental illnesses went untreated.

The bottom line is that the Mental Health Services Act money is being spent as voters intended, lives are being improved and counties are providing the state with data that proves it.

Robert E. Oakes is executive director of County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California.