To the Editor:
My name is Nancy Sutherland, I am the recently resigned chair of the Behavioral Health Advisory Board. I am writing as an informed, concerned citizen of Mendocino County, addressing my concerns with Ballot Measures AG and AH, the Sheriff’s mental health facility sales tax increase. I want to express my appreciation to the Sheriff and the concerned citizens who clearly voiced their willingness to put their money where their mouth is by signing the initiative petition. The initiative is evidence of the public’s recognition that the situation is critical. We as a community must begin to think outside the box for solutions. The County must financially support mental health services.
However, this initiative does not allocate one single dollar for services to our mentally ill friends, family, or neighbors (housed or not housed.) Its sole solution is to raise an estimated $37,000,000 to build an extravagant, unnecessary building or buildings in which mental health services may (or may not) be provided. I repeat, Zero funds for services. For many years the County has over-relied on an all or nothing approach to the delivery of mental health services. The “all” being hospitalization and the “nothing” being a dearth of community based outreach, pre-crisis, stabilization and post crisis services.
The 16-bed psychiatric hospital, presumably located in Ukiah is unrealistic. Very few small counties have the resources to maintain a 16 bed psychiatric hospital. Stringent State regulations, the unavailability of professional, experienced, licensed and credentialed 24/7 staff are among the prohibitive issues. The supporters of the initiative have not done a needs assessment or a staffing viability analysis. In fact, they have not consulted the County, in connection with ANY related issue, including Medi-Cal reimbursement and the stability of other mental health service funding sources. They are concerned with a building, not the reality of day to day, hour to hour service provision.
In July of 2016 the CEO’s office at the request of the Board of Supervisors provided a detailed, evidence-based financial analysis of the County’s cost for the proposed mental health facility. The analysis concluded the County would need to find approximately $4.85 million annually to fulfill the Sheriff’s vision. Not only are tax payers asked to pay a one half percent sales tax for a new building, we are being asked support the diversion of up to $4.85 million each year from other vital County programs, services and reserves. The plan creates an excessive, unnecessary burden on everyone; the homeless, the disabled, the elderly, the family trying to get ahead, send their kids to college, or buy a home. Everyone who lives and shops in Mendocino County will be paying more and receiving less.
The set aside of $3,700,000 (10 percent) for a training center is appalling. It is an unnecessary and inappropriate use of a mental health facility funding. The County already has training facilities, including the Sheriff’s own training center…. just not enough training. For example, the County generously allocated funds to participate and implement recommendations from the highly acclaimed Stepping Up Initiative. a national alliance of Public Safety leaders and Mental Health professionals. Where did that money go? The Behavioral Health Advisory Board has been asking for months. To our knowledge, there has been no participation, no training. Nothing I’ve said so far negates the fact…our mental health delivery system desperately needs increased community funding, but not funding that could potentially bankrupt the County or build a building that may be under utilized or never used at all.
Mendocino County needs a limited voluntary/non-voluntary Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF) as those who knew and miss Steve Neuroth can attest. However, a 16-bed facility is not the answer. We also need a voluntary crises residential facility. The County already has partial funding and is currently planning just such a facility that can be primarily funded with current resources. A residential substance abuse treatment facility exists in Ukiah. We need money to provide individuals services there. We have a substance use disorder outpatient treatment program. We need increased funding for increased services and new services in Ukiah and all communities from Covelo to Gualala. In all cases increasing funding for preventive, stabilization and post crisis services has proven effective in reducing hospitalization and long-term residential substance abuse treatment. Instead of the costly, redundant building project advocated by the Sheriff, providing funds for the services mentioned above, and increasing or providing new funds for the following services would provide real benefit to the mentally ill residing in our communities and reduce the need for hospitalization.
- Outreach and access to mental health and substance abuse services in all Mendocino County Communities.
- Wrap around case managed services designed to keep people home, connected and self-sufficient to the best of their abilities with dignity and respect.
- A strong, effective co-occurring disorder treatment/case management program.
- Increased training for law enforcement, jail personnel and other first responders.
- Improved access to psychiatric services.
These services cost money. $37,000,000 dollars allocated over 5 years would go a long way to providing them. The Mental Health Facility Sales Tax Increase does not provide one dollar for ANY mental health service….ever. Where is your tax money going? A building. Is a building with no actual services (including the 16-bed hospital) what you think the priority should be? Build it and they will come is a fantasy…a dream, not a plan.
The Initiative’s website www.revivementalhealthservice.com is misinforming you when it says the 5 year, 1/2 percent sales tax will raise funds “so we can appropriately diagnose and treat those suffering from addiction and mental health problems in Mendocino County.” That is not what the initiative does! It builds a building! No diagnosis, no treatment. That takes people, not bricks and mortar.
After years of neglect and mismanagement the County has put together an new team that, while painfully aware of funding limitations is competent, energetic, creative and community-based. Dr. Jenine Miller, Tammy Moss-Chandler and Camille Schraeder are working day and night to provide the services this community needs and deserves. Support them. Get involved where and when you can. Demand that County agencies fulfill their mandated responsibilities with transparency and good faith, and lobby at the federal, state and local level for more money for services, education, training and competitive salaries ….not for buildings. Please vote NO on Measures AG and AH in November. In the meantime ask questions, become informed.
— Nancy Sutherland