Mental health spending and priorities in county topic of meeting

Aimee Heaney, Mental Health Services Act coordinator for Plumas County Behavioral Health, hosted a community meeting and dinner Nov. 27 in the conference room at the Chester Wellness and Family Resource Center to get community input on the Plumas County MHSA 2017-2018 Annual Update to the Program and Expenditure Plan, 2017-20.

Major goals identified by Behavioral Health are to support clients in their recovery, to improve stability and functioning through treatment of mental health and substance abuse issues, and to support programming that will reduce suicide risk, isolation and depression by developing connections and resiliency among individuals and families in the community, including young adults, seniors, veterans, and students.

Heaney explained that the MHSA Community Planning Process consists of a series of community meetings, outreach events, focus groups and surveys to help Behavioral Health identify gaps in the delivery of services and find solutions through community partnerships. These activities and programs are described in the Three-Year Program and Expenditure Plan and Annual Updates.

The purpose of MHSA funding, provided through Proposition 63, is to ensure that California’s 58 counties are able to provide mental health services statewide to support underserved populations of children and youth living with severe emotional disturbance, and adults and seniors living with severe mental illness.

Attended by community members and representatives of local organizations including Seneca Healthcare District and others, Heaney emphasized at the meeting that “everyone’s input is encouraged to help in the creation of the plan and its annual updates,” to assist in the process of creating a quality mental healthcare strategy for Plumas County communities.

“I’m more than happy talking with people one-on-one,” she said, “or arranging to meet with small groups or organizations to discuss how we can improve services provided by Behavioral Health.”

Heaney said the completed update would be posted for 30-day public comment in January 2018, and will include narratives of any changes to funded programs or any new services and programming.

Coupled with the current MHSA Program and Expenditure Plan, the public will have a clear idea of what ongoing services are available.

The plan and its annual update will have a link on the Plumas County Behavioral Health website: countyofplumas.com/index.aspx?nid=2503 for detailed information once it’s posted for public review.

The annual update is a progress report covering MHSA component spending and programs provided to the public: Community Services and Supports, Prevention and Early Intervention, Innovation, Workforce, Education and Training, and Capital Facilities/Technological Needs.   

State MHSA regulations require that county behavioral health departments present the Three-Year Program and Expenditure Plan and Annual Update to county stakeholders through the Community Planning Process.

The Three-Year Plan integrates focus groups and survey results, stakeholder input and service utilization data to analyze community needs and determine the most effective way to utilize MHSA funding to expand services, improve access and meet the needs of underserved populations.

The Plumas County Board of Supervisors approved the Three-Year Program and Expenditure Plan on Sept. 19, Heaney said.

During the discussion, Heaney noted that unlike larger populated counties, which receive tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to develop programs and services, offering extensive mental healthcare programs and a large number of service providers, “small rural communities like ours take longer to implement new programs and with less funding.”

Clinical services at the centers are supported with Medi-Cal funding and from MHSA funds that are used to fill in any gaps in services and pay for services that are not funded through other sources.

It’s taken some time, but Behavioral Health “is currently developing wellness programs and scheduling other county service providers at the centers,” she said, although she was quick to add that the allocation of funds directed to MHSA can vary year-to-year depending on a complicated state tax rate formula based on state population and other factors.

The Chester Wellness Center is staffed with a licensed clinician who provides therapeutic services, a case manager to offer additional support and a peer advocate who can facilitate small groups, and offers one-on-one peer support dealing with mental health issues and life challenges. Veterans services and a number of other family support services are also offered.

She added that anyone interested in mental health issues is always welcome to participate at the wellness center through Community Connections or as county volunteers.

In addition, “We contract out with other local organizations, for example, Plumas Rural Services, which has a wonderful child and family counseling program,” providing therapists “who are available to visit the home, as well as to consult with school personnel, and to help children and their siblings up to the age of 7, and their families.”

Another vital new program under development is the No Place Like Home initiative. Plumas County, like many counties in California, currently lacks enough affordable housing, she noted. “This program is designed to develop long-term affordable housing for folks with severe mental illness,” stated Heaney. “Imagine how difficult it is to find a place to live for those struggling to find stability,” after an extended hospitalization or incarceration connected to a mental health crisis.

Plumas County Behavioral Health “spends a large amount of resources trying to make it easier for people to find a place to live,” so that they can begin to recover and improve their mental wellbeing.

Often, if no place is available for a client — which is all too often the case given how few housing opportunities there are in the county — Heaney said they’ll place people into emergency lodging like hotel rooms for up to 30 days, “but this can delay recovery and can be very expensive.”

Heaney said No Place Like Home will help to expand Plumas County’s affordable housing capacity in the coming months and years.

Continuing, she said, “Our goal is to find transitional housing that ultimately leads to permanent housing, and that’s what the No Place Like Home program is all about,” adding that over the next several years Behavioral Health plans to work with county stakeholders and partner with local agencies to plan and develop additional affordable housing programs in Plumas County, so that clients living with a severe mental illness have stable and secure housing.

MHSA reports to the board of supervisors, the defining governing body for the department, on how monies are spent and on the outcomes of its programs, as well as sharing information with the Behavioral Health Commission, which meets the first Wednesday of each month in Quincy at the Quincy Library and is open to public participation and feedback.

”Feedback from the community is essential,” Heaney reiterated, acknowledging that change can take time, while new programs are implemented.

“We want to know what’s working and what isn’t, who’s not getting the help they need and to address where we need to fill in the gaps in services to individuals living with severe mental illness.”

Heaney said that any stakeholder with ideas to improve services or access to MHSA programs or other matters related to mental healthcare in the county are invited to call her at 283-6307, or send an email to [email protected].