State Treasurer Bill Lockyer has announced the approval of $75.3 million in grants that aim to stabilize residents with severe mental illness before they land in jails or hospitals.
The grants will go to 28 counties for new or expanded services. They will add 827 residential mental health beds and crisis "stabilization" beds, and pay for more than three dozen vehicles and five dozen staff members for mobile support teams, which often accompany local law enforcement to defuse tense situations and direct those in need to care.
More than half of the funding — $40.9 million — will go to Los Angeles County, which plans 16 new residential crisis care facilities, each with room for 16 adult residents, including those who are also struggling with substance abuse.
Such "co-occurring disorders" are common, but many programs are not equipped to handle both. The maximum stay in the centers would be 21 days.
The county also plans four new urgent care units, in the San Gabriel Valley and South Bay, where there now are none. Each will have beds for a dozen adults and six adolescents. The centers are meant for stays of 24 hours or less as clients are assessed and connected to other resources.
The county also will add 16 new mobile support teams.
The grants were approved last week by the California Health Facilities Financing Authority, which Lockyer chairs.
"These programs will save lives, help keep mental health patients out of jails and hospital emergency rooms, and prevent needless suffering," he said in a statement.
The money awarded amounts to about half the disbursements allowable under the Investment in Mental Health Wellness Act of 2013, which was created by legislation sponsored last year by Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). There will be subsequent funding rounds.
"Our criminal justice system and hospital emergency rooms are packed full of people who end up there because they were arrested or hospitalized during a mental health crisis and had nowhere else to go," Steinberg said in a statement. "More crisis residential beds and mental health crisis teams can make the difference between recovery and a downward spiral into severe mental illness."
Randall Hagar, government affairs director for the California Psychiatric Assn., said initial negotiations also called for funding to operate the new facilities but those dollars didn't make it into the final bill. As a result, he said, many rural counties with acute mental health needs did not apply.
"They just can't afford to do it," Hagar said.
Although he praised the residential and urgent crisis beds as "a good model" and said it's "hard to say anything bad" about such a healthy disbursement of funds, Hagar also expressed disappointment that none of the funding went to beds for those under legal psychiatric holds.
There is a stark shortage of such beds as well, but funding involuntary care is politically sensitive.
In a January notice to grant applicants, the financing authority explained that "projects that include restrictive environments will likely be less competitive and consequently, less likely to be funded."
Of the other grants approved:
• Riverside, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties received $7.9 million for residential beds, $4.7 million for stabilization units and $1.8 million for mobile crisis support.
-• The Bay Area counties of Santa Clara, Alameda, Sonoma, Marin and Contra Costa received $8.8 million for residential beds, $2.7 million for stabilization units and $990,000 for mobile crisis support.
• The Central Valley counties of Fresno, Merced, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Yolo received $2 million for residential beds, $2.6 million for stabilization units and $1.1 million for mobile crisis support.
• The northern counties of Butte, Nevada, Lake and Mendocino received $867,000 for residential beds, $500,000 for stabilization units and $296,000 for mobile crisis support.
In addition to Los Angeles, three counties — Sonoma, Fresno and San Joaquin — plan to reserve some stabilization beds for adolescents, who are particularly underserved.