Residents suffering from mental illness, especially those in Santa Rita Jail, may get some relief following action this past week by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, advocates said Thursday.
The board directed the county administrator to bring a proposal forward for $50.6 million to expand mental health and substance use services to reduce incarceration. That is following a request by Board Vice President Nate Miley, whose district includes Pleasanton.
The tens of millions of dollars would fully fund the Behavioral Health Services & Forensic System Redesign Plan, which would expand those services across all levels of care.
"We see this as an incremental step and a more solid commitment that can lead to some overdue relief for people incarcerated in Santa Rita Jail with behavioral care needs," said Tash Nguyen, the director of programs for Restore Oakland, which helps people heal from harm due to racial inequities.
Dozens of people have died at Santa Rita Jail in the past decade. Many of those had a mental illness, the advocates say. The deaths prompted a federal investigation that has led to changes in the way people with mental illness are treated at the jail.
The board also supported Miley's request for a cost analysis and a report on the feasibility of maintaining the beds at Villa Fairmount Mental Health Rehabilitation Center for county use, rather than leasing the beds to other counties or Kaiser Permanente.
Community members have said more beds are needed at Villa Fairmount, a facility for people recovering from a bout of serious mental illness.
The board will also get a report on enhancements that would increase the number of people served by full-service partnerships. Full-service partnerships treat people suffering from severe mental illness.
Miley is not alone in his desire to help people with mental illness and substance use disorders.
Gov. Gavin Newsom in March unveiled a proposal called CARE Court or Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court, which aims to support and provide care for people with mental health and substance use disorders.
CARE Court has so far received unanimous support in the state Senate and recently passed the Assembly Health Committee by a unanimous vote.
Miley also asked for a new county "funding source to support the implementation and associated staffing costs" for CARE Court in Alameda County.
The board decided to allow County Administrator Susan Muranishi to seek state money to implement CARE Court in the county, Miley said.
Advocates for the mentally ill also criticized the supervisors for a couple of things. The county has capacity for only about 1,000 full-service partnerships, far short of 4,000 to 6,000 recommended by the U.S. Department of Justice in its lawsuit against Alameda County, according to the advocates.
The county also needs about 1,000 or more supportive housing units than it has, a shortfall the county has not addressed, the advocates said.
"Our county budget is a moral document, this is a matter of life and death for thousands of residents in a mental health crisis," said Peggy Rahman, president of National Alliance on Mental Illness Alameda County, in a statement.
Miley said Friday that no more money for mental health care needs was made available by the board Thursday when it passed to the 2022-23 budget. But he thinks the county has such funding and that is why he asked Muranishi to look for it.
"We have to get moving," Miley said.
"Things are not getting better," he said.
Even if money is identified and the board allocates it in the mid-cycle budget review in January, it will be another six months or a year before the county sees results, Miley said.