With a crowd of mental health workers and patients anxiously looking on, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday scrapped plans to close eight psychiatric outpatient centers and agreed to a bailout plan that could keep the clinics open for another six months.
The mental health centers, which had been scheduled to close permanently after shutting their doors Monday, were back in business after an eleventh-hour decision by the state Supreme Court forced the county to suspend the cutbacks.
The high court ruled late Monday that a preliminary injunction blocking the mental health cuts should remain in effect. County officials hastily reopened the outpatient centers Tuesday, sending patients and mental health workers scrambling and wondering how long the reprieve will last.
“I think it’s an immediate relief,” said Anita Pace, a 37-year-old Sherman Oaks woman who has been a patient at East San Fernando Valley Mental Health Center, one of the clinics that was scheduled to close Tuesday.
The board agreed to commit $3.25 million toward keeping the psychiatric centers open through August. They left it to mental health director Roberto Quiroz to work out the details.
The additional mental health funds--$2.95 million for outpatient clinics and $250,000 for beefed-up security at the psychiatric centers--would come in the form of previously uncollected property taxes.
But the supervisors admitted that it was only a temporary fix.
“I don’t think we’re really going to be able to stem the bleeding of this mental health program,” Supervisor Deane Dana said.
Supervisor Pete Schabarum, who along with Ed Edelman proposed the property tax plan, said the temporary measure was still “very iffy.”
Although Chief Administrative Officer Richard B. Dixon cautioned that shifting money to the clinics could drain other county programs, the supervisors said they had to find a way to pay for the clinics in light of Monday’s state Supreme Court ruling.
Injunction in Force
The high court ruled that it was unnecessary to stop the closings--as requested by legal aid attorneys for indigent, mentally ill patients--because an earlier Superior Court injunction was still in force. The high court ruled, in effect, that it must review the case before the injunction can be lifted and the clinics can be closed.
County Counsel DeWitt Clinton told supervisors Tuesday that they should wait until after the state Supreme Court has acted before proceeding with any scheduled cuts--a delay that could last several months or more.
“The Supreme Court has said you can’t close the clinics. That’s the way I read it,” Schabarum said later. “Everything remains the status quo.”
Quiroz, however, said later that some of the clinics already had lost so much staff and patients that he may ask the board to close certain ones.
Workers Still Cautious
“I don’t think the Supreme Court was saying to keep those clinics open at any cost,” he said.
Uncertainty over their fate left mental health workers and patients cautious about celebrating over the additional money to keep clinics open for now.
“Our coalition of unions is very adamant that they need to keep in place all the services that they now have and obtain full funding,” said Edith Pollach, president of Local 2712 of the American Federation of County, State and Municipal Employees, which represents psychiatric social workers.
The most dramatic public testimony Tuesday came from Allan Panitch, the father of Robbyn Panitch, a psychiatric social worker who was stabbed to death last week at a county-run Santa Monica mental health clinic, allegedly by one of her patients.
Failed to Provide Security
In a voice that occasionally neared breaking, Panitch claimed that county officials had failed to provide adequate security for his daughter and other mental health workers while they toiled in a profession that was dangerous.
“In order to save a few dollars, you did not give her the tools nor the protection to do the job you wouldn’t do,” he told the board.
There was no security guard at the Santa Monica facility at the time of the stabbing. But Chief Administrative Officer Dixon told the supervisors that a security guard has been placed at that facility and that the county, along with the Sheriff’s Department, is examining security at all mental health centers.
The additional $250,000 the supervisors earmarked for such security would go to such measures as emergency alarms and safety training for mental health workers.