I want to commend reporter Sigrid Bathen for her thorough and excellent reporting on an issue important to so many people: providing mental health care for our loved ones.
Ms. Bathen’s two-part series shined a critical light on some counties’ resistance to adopting Laura’s Law to enhance outpatient services to those with severe mental health issues.
It is mystifying that two of California’s largest counties – Sacramento and Santa Clara – have declined to implement a program that has proven to be effective in reducing hospitalizations, homelessness and incarceration. I understand the concerns over our state’s history of “warehousing” the mentally ill. But we have moved well past that approach to mental health services. As the State Auditor made clear in a blistering report last year, California must do more to ensure that those with serious mental illness receive adequate ongoing care through Laura’s Law.
Today our state tolerates a different kind of abuse: neglecting the needs of people with mental illness and then steering too many of them into our court and prison system, as Ms. Bathen’s reporting shows. Too many structural incentives are still in place that force police to handle the mentally ill after they’ve reached a crisis rather than equipping mental health professionals to work with people in a preventive and holistic way.
I voted last year with my legislative colleagues to encourage all 58 counties to avail themselves of Assisted Outpatient Treatment programs, and I hope Sacramento and Santa Clara counties ultimately agree to implement this program.
This year I have authored three bills to offer more state support for those suffering from mental illness, but also to put in place accountability measures to keep an eye on agencies to ensure they are providing needed services. They are:
SB 21, which would increase funding for public schools’ mental health services financed by purchases of a mental health awareness license plate (you can register your intent to buy the license plate here: https://beingwellca.org/);
SB 749, which would create a comprehensive tracking program for county spending on mental and behavioral health programs and services;
SB 782, which follows on last year’s legislation by allowing individuals exiting conservatorship to be eligible for involuntary Assisted Outpatient Treatment as a bridge to fully independent living.
I hope we can all agree that mental health services are one of California’s most vital needs – especially as we continue to maneuver through the effects of the Pandemic. Solutions are in sight. The State Auditor made that much clear in its scathing report last year. We just need to seize the moment and do the right thing.
State Senator, 7th District (Contra Costa and Alameda counties)