By Debra Moore
Is there anyone in Plumas County who couldn’t use some stress relief? The Board of Supervisors made that a little easier by voting 4-1 on Oct. 11 to approve tai chi classes through the Behavioral Health Department, with funding through the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA). The MHSA was passed by California voters in 2004 and is funded by a one percent income tax on personal income in excess of $1 million per year to provide mental health services.
MHSA Coordinator Kristy Pierson made the presentation to the board on behalf of her department. The tai chi classes had come before the board earlier this year, but the supervisors wanted more information and were concerned that the classes were offered in Portola, which wouldn’t benefit the entire county.
The board was being asked to approve an agreement between Behavioral Health and the tai chi instructor for an amount not to exceed $18,000.
Pierson told the board that she has been a senior case manager at Behavioral Health for more than 12 years and witnessed the impact many of its programs make on its clients, and tai chi has made an impact.
She explained that Behavioral Health established wellness centers in each of the four main communities, which include Chester, Greenville, Quincy and Portola. “The idea behind the Wellness Centers was not only to improve access, timeliness, and linkage to services, but to also include wellness and recovery focused activities such as art, yoga, tai chi, cooking, and mechanics,” Pierson told the board. “Some of these activities were facilitated by Behavioral Health staff, peer advocates or consumers, and others were contracted services with professional providers. All the wellness and recovery services were part of the operating costs of the Wellness centers.”
One of those contracted was for tai chi instruction and “it quickly became one of the highest attended wellness activities in the county,” according to Pierson.
Then COVID hit, but tai chi continued via Zoom. Then the Dixie Fire came and further disrupted wellness center offerings just as they were set to resume. “The tai chi program was the only wellness program that was able to withstand COVID and the Dixie Fire,” she said.
Pierson cited the regulations that allowed the MHSA funding to be used for tai chi, and cited “county may fund activities to reach, identify, and engage unserved individuals and communities in the mental health system and reduce disparities identified by the county…”
The classes are available not only to Behavioral Health clientele, but to all county residents.
Pierson said when the supervisors initially failed to authorize the classes, she received many letters of support for the program, and read some of them to the board. Here is an excerpt: “These classes have improved my life tremendously, not just physically, but also mentally. As a senior citizen with limited income, I would not be able to pay for private instruction; it would be a great loss for me and many other participants if we lost the tai chi classes.”
Supervisor Greg Hagwood said that he too “received numerous measures of correspondence from people I know well and others that I have not met.”
Supervisor Sherrie Thrall, who represents the Lake Almanor Basin, said she thinks “it’s a really beneficial program, but I think it’s disingenuous to say it’s available for the entire county. It doesn’t benefit my district.” She said it was unrealistic to think that residents from Chester would drive to Portola for a class. (It should be noted that each of the wellness centers also offer activities, though they vary per location.)
Pierson responded that the class is still available through Zoom and those at the Chester Wellness Center could attend in that manner.
Ultimately the supervisors voted 4-1 to approve the classes, with Thrall casting the no vote.