Opinion

Gov. Newsom targets behavioral health czar

A woman chats with her psychologist during a therapy session. (Photo: loreanto, via Shutterstock)

We are excited, encouraged, and grateful to see Gov. Gavin Newsom’s early focus on the need to fund and transform behavioral health care in California.

In his recent budget presentation, Newsom made it clear he intends to create a statewide mental health “czar” who will focus on securing and implementing resources to address one of the most fundamental health care needs of our time.

The governor is putting state resources where his heart is and should be commended for following through on pledges he made during the 2018 campaign.

Newsom also plans to appoint a new Brain Health Task Force to provide expert direction on how best to address mental illness and substance abuse disorders. His budget proposal includes $500 million in state funding to develop both temporary shelter and permanent supportive housing for those who are homeless and suffering from mental illness.

He is proposing $100 million in new funding to expand the Whole Person Pilot Program, which provides physical and mental health services to those who need help with a serious behavioral health condition.

The governor is putting state resources where his heart is and should be commended for following through on pledges he made during the 2018 campaign. Collectively, these proposals have great potential to begin the process of ending stigma and the damage that behavioral health issues pose to our family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers.

Last summer, the California Hospital Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness California and other groups launched Behavioral Health Action, a powerful coalition of more than 50 statewide organizations with an ambitious goal to boost public awareness about the need to address behavioral health. Our goal then and now was to elevate the issue, educate decision makers, and innovate toward effective solutions.

We are a diverse group of individuals and families, hospital and health care providers, public safety and law enforcement, labor, the courts, local government leaders, and business representatives. Historically, these coalition members did not agree on specific solutions, but came together in a united realization that we must develop common goals that include prevention and early intervention, crisis prevention and response, and improvements in workforce development.

As a candidate for governor last October, Newsom attended a summit hosted by Behavioral Health Action in San Francisco. There, he expressed his commitment to making behavioral health a priority and to working with the coalition “to demonstrate that California can and will lead, becoming a global model for solutions that improve the lives of people throughout our Golden State.”

These were not just campaign promises. To his credit, Gov. Newsom has followed through on that commitment with his budget proposals. His willingness to engage with Behavioral Health Action is remarkable and transformational. His passion for addressing brain health is commendable as well as vital, given the pervasive nature of the issue. More than 6 million people in California live with some form of mental illness, and it’s estimated that two of three aren’t currently able to get the treatment they need.

Our work is just beginning. We look forward to working with the new governor, his appointees, the Legislature, and others in a partnership to achieve results that are long overdue. Gov. Newsom’s visionary approach gives us good reason to be optimistic that 2019 will be a year of transformation.

Editor’s Note: Carmela Coyle is president & CEO of the California Hospital Association. Jessica Cruz is CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, California.


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