BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Kern County spends nearly $8 million of Proposition 63 money each year on special programs to prevent mental illness or intervene before it becomes serious.
But unlike some other counties, Kern focuses its prevention and intervention programs on direct services to mental health patients or children and adults at high risk of developing mental illness or substance abuse.
Kern County Mental Health Director Jim Waterman said it is valid to ask why those programs continue to receive Mental Health Services Act money -- produced by the so-called millionaire's tax -- when front-line services for the seriously mentally ill have been slashed.
"I think the real issue is whether there are adequate resources for the treatment of the seriously mentally ill," he said.
But he said he is committed to making sure the funds he is required to spend on prevention and intervention achieve a valuable goal.
Here is a list of the Kern County programs funded for this fiscal year through the 20 percent prevention and intervention set-aside created by Proposition 63:
Student Assistance Programs: $4.45 million
Middle school and high school students who struggle with poor social skills, show signs of violence, are experimenting with drugs and alcohol or dealing with bullying are referred to the program by the schools.
Program services for moderate-risk students include education aimed at decreasing bullying, suicide and conflict. Students with the highest risk and established problems with attendance, behavior and substance abuse receive group and family counseling up to and including residential service.
Services are also provided to parents, Waterman said, because they are critical to helping their children succeed.
"The parent education is kind of the other side of the coin to treatment," he said. "That's not just fluff, that really goes hand in hand with treating kids."
Future Focus: $424,816
The program provides temporary transitional housing and independence services for young adults -- ages 18 to 25 -- at risk of being homeless as they try to transition to adulthood. It helps them get a high school diploma, develop a resume, learn interviewing skills and look for a job.
Project Care: $1.24 million
The money puts mental health professionals in hospitals and primary care clinics around Kern County.
It was based on the idea that people with mental illnesses, depression or substance abuse problems could be identified and assisted when they come into a clinic or hospital to deal with a physical illness.
Volunteer Senior Outreach Program: $891,279
This program helps seniors in Lake Isabella, Bakersfield, Tehachapi, Wasco and Shafter defend themselves from mental illness, depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
Waterman said volunteers and program coordinators take referrals from friends and family and look for "warning signs that (seniors are) beginning down the road of depression, isolation, mental illness."
They team up with other Kern County departments and community groups to get those seniors help.
Freise HOPE House: $1.99 million
A 14-bed residential mental health and substance abuse program that houses and treats people in serious mental health crisis for 30 days and tracks them for another 30 days to help them get back on their feet.
The twist, which makes this program different from some other residential programs, is that it is run by people who have struggled with addiction and mental illness. Those leaders help their peers through the process of recovering from crisis.
Waterman said the development of MHSA programs was done before the most recent recession, when California maintained a strong, well-funded mental health treatment infrastructure for the seriously mentally ill.
He compared funding from the act to a nice new front porch built onto a very nice house to enhance it.
But, Waterman said, as the state's mental health structure has been torn down from inside, mental health leaders are struggling with whether to use the planking from that "porch" to save the "house."
"That's a valid question," he said.