The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

November 16, 2010
Advocates, county cut a deal on mental health services

There's a truce, at least until next June, in the battle over Sacramento County's outpatient services for the mentally ill.

Advocates for the mentally ill announced a settlement with the county today that calls for existing services to continue until at least June 30, 2011 - the end of the county's budget year -- while an expert hired by the county studies the system and makes recommendations.

The current system has allowed residents dealing with mental illness to get outpatient care while living and working in the community.

The advocates had sued the county to stop what The Bee editorial board agreed was "an ill-conceived scheme" to try to save money by shifting as many as 4,000 patients from successful treatment programs run by nonprofits to iffy county-run clinics. In July, however, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction against the plan, saying it would cause "catastrophic harm" to patients and would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The settlement talks have been ongoing since then, and those negotiations will continue.

"Although the parties did not resolve the case, their interim agreement acknowledges that they have shared interests in a 'commitment to serve the needs of mental health clients in Sacramento County;' a 'commitment to follow the recovery model of outpatient mental health services;' and a 'recognition that it is desirable to operate and maintain a County mental health system that maximizes available revenue sources,' " according to a statement from Disability Rights California, the Western Center on Law and Poverty and Cooley LLP, which filed the suit.

The county will continue to comply with the temporary injunction. It gets to choose the expert, who is to finish their report by Jan. 21, according to a memo today from Mary Ann Bennett, the county's deputy health and human services director in charge of behavioral health services. 

The county had wanted to cut $14 million in the Department of Behavioral Health Services for 2010-11. But with the court order and potential loss of state funding, the county is paying for outpatient care by dipping into other sources of mental health money, using savings from other programs and by slicing some county mental health jobs.


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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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