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Architect of Mental Health Merger Plan Understood the Stakes

<i> Susan Vinson is the owner of the Business Digest and Working Parent publications, a Ventura County board member of National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and organizer of the Mental Health Players. A former resident of Santa Barbara and Ojai, she now lives in Ventura</i>

To those people who are sniveling about the departure of Steve Kaplan and two of his right-hand administrators from the Behavioral Health Department, detailed in “Ousted County Official Defends Department” (Feb. 24), here is something you should know:

In a number of conversations I had with Kaplan, he expressed full awareness that, should his plan to merge Behavioral Health with Social Services fail, it would be a “career shortening” move. When heads of business make expensive blunders, they pay with their pocketbooks or their jobs. Why should it be any different with bureaucrats?

To say that his departure is “payback” for defying Health Care Agency Director Pierre Durand’s opposition to the merger is ludicrous. It was not Durand who nixed the merger, it was the federal government--along with a legion of informed experts whose advice Kaplan chose to ignore.

In addition to the legacy of a costly botched merger, Kaplan’s administration leaves no housing plan for the mentally ill in our county--and no plan to provide sub-acute care for patients just released from the psychiatric hospital.

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The old 30-bed inpatient facility next to Behavioral Health administrative offices on Hillmont Avenue--which sat empty during the two years of Kaplan’s tenure--is only being considered for use for the homeless because local members of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill made loud demands.

Ironically, this facility--built with federal dollars for the care and treatment of the mentally ill--is not being used for the treatment and care of the large portion of the homeless population that is mentally ill. Rather, the plan is to house the healthy homeless there. And it remains county policy to release our homeless mentally ill from hospitals to temporary shelter in sleazy hotels in Downtown Ventura, where they get no treatment or oversight.

This is wrong. Morally wrong. And, it appears to me, a violation of federal guidelines.

When cautioned about lapses in the care of our mentally ill population and when urged to formulate a comprehensive plan, Kaplan’s administration was consistently hostile and unapproachable. I know. I was there.

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Here’s what I didn’t say then, but what those who attended the Call to Action Conference on Feb. 19 need to know: The arrogance and lack of vision of the outgoing Behavioral Health Administration was one of my primary motivations for organizing that event.

The 350 enthusiastic people who jammed the Four Points Sheraton that day should be a clear signal to elected representatives and future bureaucrats that our county will no longer tolerate the neglect of our homeless mentally ill.

If I could accomplish anything as a result of the Call to Action Conference, it would be to shatter the myth that no one cares about these disenfranchised brothers and sisters, people who suffer with no-fault, treatable illnesses not unlike Alzheimer’s disease.

I urge all of you to communicate a mandate to your county supervisor, state assemblyman and senator and your city council to provide the resources for the humane treatment and supervised housing for the homeless mentally ill.

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In addition, join the Ventura County Chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. For information call 648-2006.


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