Continued/increasing need for a continuum of care facility for those with severe mental health issues

by Carol Leish

Mary Haffner, who served on the Behavioral Health Advisory Board for the past six years, says that, “Ventura County is not the only California county dealing with the societal, economic, and human health costs associated with our society’s collective failure to provide a continuum of care for those with severe mental health issues. While serving on the board, I was able to get a close look at Ventura County’s mental healthcare system as it relates to people with the most serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and major depressive disorder. The needs of this population are far different from those who have mild to moderate mental health challenges and they require a specific set of treatment protocols and post-discharge supports. The good news is that these illnesses are highly treatable and people can do well given prompt and effective treatment.”

In a letter dated, October 29, 2019, to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, from Haffner, while on the Behavioral Health Advisory Board, that concerned, ‘The Continuum of Care for the Seriously Mentally Ill in Ventura County,’ she stated: “Ventura County does not provide a full continuum of coordinated mental health care for the seriously mentally ill. Others with (physical) illnesses receive prompt and effective science-based treatment and follow-up supports to realize recovery. Investing in the continuum of care for those living with serious mental illness can alleviate stress on numerous agencies and begin to tackle the cycle of hospitalizations, incarceration, and homelessness.”

According to a letter to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, from the Behavioral Health Advisory Board, on February 22, 2021, regarding the ‘Lanterman-Petrus-Short (LPS) Reform Workgroup Report’: “There was a need to reform provisions of the LPS Act.” However, “It was the County Counsel’s opinion that the Welfare and Institution code did not give the Behavioral Health Advisory Board the ability to engage in legislative matters or to advocate in support of legislation, even though members of the board strongly believed that behavioral health legislation was to be an integral part of its ability to address and work to resolve the needs of the behavioral health system of care in Ventura County.”

According to Haffner, “Providing treatment now requires adequate infrastructure, to include acute inpatient beds, appropriate step-down facilities, wrap-around post discharge supports, and supportive housing. Ventura’s crisis bed capacity is lower than counties similar in size. We do not have a facility that can directly accept psychiatric emergencies, necessitating long waits in hospital emergency rooms. Because people with serious mental illness often interface with numerous departments and agencies in a county system (hospital, jails, probation, behavior health, courts, homeless services), the most efficient way to utilize scarce resource is to look at the entire system, fortify communication between agencies, and to find ways to leverage resource to provide upstream treatment and supports. San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles counties have all created templates for whole-systems approaches to provide treatment and supports for this population. And, other counties have used the Mental Health Services Act funding to partner with private entities to provide Crisis Stabilization Units and other crisis facilities.”

“Understanding the dire lack of crisis services and need for prompt and effective treatment,” according to Haffner, “the Behavioral Health Advisory Board recently prepared a report with recommendations for the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. Among these recommendations is a 30-day extension of hospitalization for individuals deemed gravely disabled in order to provide better care and stabilization and to avoid the need for Conservatorship. The reality of serious mental illness is that people need to receive treatment for longer than 3 days.”

Haffner believes that, “We don’t do more to help these people because I believe that discrimination and stigma play a big role in our society’s failure to provide treatment. We have normalized the jailing of people with mental illness and we have too many people who don’t want any treatment facilities in their communities. That is why leadership is so important. We need leader who understand the illness and who are willing to educate the public and work toward solutions.”

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