Members of the Behavioral Health Services board were surprised Monday evening when dozens of community members packed in their meeting to support the county’s 10 Family Resource Centers.

Members of the Behavioral Health Services board were surprised Monday evening when dozens of community members packed in their meeting to support the county’s 10 Family Resource Centers.

Though the board knew nothing about it, according to Jill Phillips, executive director of the Siskiyou Community Services Council and the directors of the individual Resource Centers, they were told most of the county’s Mental Health Services Act funding would be diverted away from the FRCs in next year’s budget.

According to Phillips, they were told this by Director of Human Services Michael Noda and deputy director Kate O’Shea during a meeting on May 11. When word got out to the public, many were extremely concerned.

At Monday’s meeting, Noda assured the board and the public that there had been a misunderstanding, and that “putting the FRCs out of business was nowhere near the intent of this plan.”

Instead, Noda said, the plan is to change the allocation methodology of state MHSA funding to a performance-based methodology in order to assure all funds spent result in a service.

When many spoke in favor of the FRC model, which was state approved five years ago and provides case management and clinical services in 10 Siskiyou County communities, Noda said they were “preaching to the choir,” and that he is one of the strongest supporters of the Resource Centers.

Phillips said she was happy to hear that the plan has been opened up to discussion, and the Community Services Council is eager to work with Behavioral Health to create a model that will continue to provide needed services to the entire community within the necessary budget.

The Mental Health Services Act is a voter-approved one percent tax on California’s millionaires. This money is then distributed to each county through a specific formula.
In Siskiyou County, the Behavioral Health Department doles MHSA funding out according to a state approved plan, which incorporates the Family Resource Centers.

In total, according to county documents, during the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the 10 FRCs received $632,745 in MHSA CSS funding. The total amount of CSS funding received by Siskiyou County during that same period was $1,724,300. The total Behavioral Health budget for that year was $15,969,756.

Phillips said it’s important to understand that the MHSA has several different pots of funding, and Siskiyou County implements their funding a bit differently than other counties. While the aim of Behavioral Health is to serve the “seriously and persistently mentally ill,” according to the text of the state’s Welfare and Institutions Code pertaining to the Mental Health Services Act, the program should “provide outreach to families, employers, primary health care providers and others to recognize the early signs of potentially severe and disabling mental illness,” reduce stigma associated with seeking mental health services, offer programs effective in preventing mental illnesses from becoming severe and access links to medically necessary care. It’s intended to move from a fail first to a help first system.

All of these are things the FRCs do remarkably well and with minimal cost, and help to provide much needed services to the unserved, underserved and inappropriately served, Phillips pointed out.

According to notes provided by Behavioral Health Services board member Marilyn Steward, last year 1,600 people were served at the county’s 10 FRCs. The annual cost per client is approximately $1,250 to $1,275. Behavioral Health cost is $13,000 to $14,000 per client, and with the FRCs there is not wait time for services, Steward said.

Behavioral Health in the red
Noda said Behavioral Health has been very transparent, and has been running $2 million over budget every year.

“The budget I’m submitting (this year) is $7 million,” Noda said. To put that in perspective, last year’s budget was $17 million, he added.

Behavioral Health must also put aside $400,000 next year to repay Medi-Cal for overbilling which occurred during the fiscal years 2004 through 2008.

“For our department, this is a huge, huge amount, but this is what we’re dealing with,” said Noda, who was not involved with the overbilling. “We’re going to have to reduce services all around. All areas of the budget will be touched.”

“I’m aware that we have severe, very real budget issues,” Phillips said, once again emphasizing that she hopes the county will be able to work out some cost effective solution to continue to provide mental health support services to the community.

People speaking out
Among the many people who came to the meeting from across the county was Annette Toney, a mother of two young children who is client of the Weed Community Resource Center.

Toney said she has eye problems, and the FRC has helped her make and keep appointments and take her necessary medication, which in turn helped improve her mental health.

“Without the Resource Center, I’d be blind,” she said. “I think we should keep the Resource Centers so people can get help.”

Richard “Stretch” Banns said until recently, he was homeless and had spent much of his life incarcerated.

“I’ve had behavioral health issues all my life,” he said.

Banns added that the Weed Community Resource Center has been “invaluable” to him and pleaded for its funding.

Grenada resident Ina Belongie said the FRC saved her life. She said she has struggled with medical issues, depression and even attempted suicide before getting the necessary help from the FRCs.

“If it was not for the Resource Centers in Yreka and Montague, I would not be here today... we need the Resource centers,” Belongie said.

Behavioral Health Services board member Sheriff Jon Lopey also had questions for Noda.

Lopey said the county’s current configuration is working extremely well and is very cost efficient for the amount of outreach and engagement they provide. He pointed out that clients have access to 70 programs when they enter an FRC.

“The FRCs not only save us a ton of money, but they have been very successful in helping people become better family members and better community members in general,” Lopey said.

“I don’t want to dispute the fact that FRCs are key in our community,” said Noda before the subject was closed and the board moved on to other items on their agenda.

The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting to discuss Behavioral Health funding on Wednesday, May 25 at the Yreka City Council Chambers, beginning at 9 a.m. Anyone who wishes to air their concerns is asked to attend.