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Shortchanging Mental Health

Los Angeles County expects $11 million to $12 million in badly needed new funds for mental-health programs in the next state budget. Unfortunately, the preliminary spending plan drafted by Roberto Quiroz, county mental-health director, allocates virtually none of that money to the community programs for the mentally ill that state legislators had in mind when they approved the funds. These are outpatient programs combining medication and social activity, programs that state mental-health officials, the California Alliance for the Mentally Ill and many former mental patients agree should be the focus of mental-health care.

Now it appears that county officials are planning to redirect the money to politically sensitive, highly publicized areas that deserve more money and attention but that do not meet the needs of the majority of the county’s mentally ill. The tentative plan would use several million dollars to create 152 new mental-health-crisis beds in county hospitals, including 80 beds in Olive View Hospital; give $2 million to MacLaren Children’s Center, and distribute much of the rest of the money to temporary shelters for the homeless and mental-health-care programs in the jails. Only about $100,000 will go to community programs if the county Board of Supervisors approves the plan.

MacLaren Children’s Center needs $2 million, but it should not come out of mental-health funds. Another $500,000 is slated for a homeless shelter in the San Fernando Valley that has nothing to do with the mentally ill. As for crisis beds, 152 would hardly cause a ripple in a county mental-health system that deals with 100,000 patients a year, but they would make money for the county. Installing 80 beds at Olive View also would help the county and Supervisor Mike Antonovich alleviate a political and financial sore spot.

For the county’s mentally ill, however, adding hospital beds without adding community programs would just increase the size of the revolving door that the mental-health-care system has become. Quiroz says that the goal of the plan is to establish a system of mental-health care in the county that is balanced between hospitals and community programs, but giving $100,000 out of $11 million to community programs when there are very few community programs to begin with hardly constitutes a balance.

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Gov. George Deukmejian says that mental health is one of his top three priorities. That being the case, he should make sure that mental-health funds will actually be spent on the programs for which they are targeted before he approves them.


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