Soapbox

Sacramento County is trying to shore up safety net

Andrea Vega Torres, who supports the California Endowment’s #Health4All campaign, applauds during a March workshop held by Sacramento County supervisors to consider options for restoring health care aid to undocumented immigrants.
Andrea Vega Torres, who supports the California Endowment’s #Health4All campaign, applauds during a March workshop held by Sacramento County supervisors to consider options for restoring health care aid to undocumented immigrants. lsterling@sacbee.com

Every June, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors considers the budget. It is the most important responsibility we have as stewards of about 3.5 billion of your tax dollars.

We do it with the help of our county executive and his staff and with considerable public input. This year, the board has hosted a series of productive “safety net” workshops on a wide variety of health and human services that inspired discourse on the most fundamental challenges and opportunities the county faces.

While we must be vigilant about all elements of our health and human services, three are the most critical this budget season.

During the Great Recession, behavioral health services suffered severe cuts. Far too many of our most vulnerable residents were given no choice but to seek help from hospital emergency rooms, the worst environment for someone in crisis and the most inefficient means for delivering care. The county is now working closely with area hospitals to create comprehensive services, including expanded inpatient, outpatient and respite care; mental health “navigators”; and mobile crisis teams.

We also have a responsibility to ensure our constituents – regardless of immigration status – have access to health services. We take seriously our charge to keep communicable disease in check and limit the impact on local emergency rooms. Fortunately, during the workshop on restoring health services to the undocumented population, county staff outlined a number of options for the board to consider, including providing a mix of primary and specialty care services and exploring enhanced partnerships with local health systems.

Finally, after years of dedicated work by hundreds of county staff, community members and nonprofit partners, the board received a strategic plan to reduce disproportionately high death rates for African American children. This workshop was one of the best-attended board meetings in four years and included hours of public testimony, all of it supporting the plan.

For the first time, we expect the county executive will recommend a budget that proposes new intervention programs, community partnerships and resources aimed at reducing deaths associated with well-documented leading causes. Come budget time, we’ll know the level of commitment to address Sacramento County’s most disheartening statistic – that African American children continue to die at twice the rate of others.

We’re both hopeful that the kind of public participation over the past few months continues as the board considers the county budget.

Phil Serna represents District 1 and is chairman of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. Patrick Kennedy represents District 2 on the board.

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