Mendo’s slow-moving Measure B Oversight Committee continued its slow pace last Wednesday, August 28, in spite of the Grand Jury’s attempt to get them off their collective asses.
In June, the Grand Jury urged the Measure B committee and the County to “act with a sense of urgency” adding, that they were “concerned about the length of time it has taken the Committee to make just three recommendations.” (And those recommndations were no brainers — an expanded outreach program, a bargain basement training center and a project manager.) The Grand Jury apparently does not realize that Mendo’s lethargic bureaucracy is allergic to acting with anything remotely like a sense of urgency.
The Supervisors, showing a similar aversion to urgency, told the Oversight Committee in their response to the Grand Jury that they should put more emphasis on upstream services to reduce the need for facilities. But some members of the Measure B Committee seem vaguely to think they’ve already done that to the extent that their charter permits adding that the Supes should re-read the original text of Measure B (implying that facilities are the Committee’s main focus and they don’t really want to mess with the services side of the discussion).
Although the County’s outreach services (aka the County’s MOPS) program has been funded for a couple of extra outreach vehicles with two staffers each via Measure B funds, they’ve had trouble staffing up because a key MOPS technician recently retired and, as Sheriff Allman explained, “Finding good people is tough. They have to pass a drug test and be responsible. It’s hard; very difficult.”
Hopefully, the bar is a little higher than just that. But either way, the statement doesn’t say much about Mendo’s available workforce.
California’s Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63) was passed in 2004 and the next year Mendo started getting an extra $1 million for “new” mental health services that the Act (Prop 63) required and would fund via it’s novel “tax the rich” formula. One of the “services” that the usual collection of Mendo mental health ditherers and blatherers considered at the time in 2005 was a crisis van — a no-brainer of an idea which we have been pushing since the 1990s when Mendo’s mental health apparatus, with the assistance of a few Ukiah cops, managed to kill a patient of theirs named Marvin Noble for simply not taking his meds.
The crisis van idea was briefly proposed in 2005 and the Mental Health department duly put it out to bid, but nobody bid. End of subject. It was unceremoneously dropped and hasn’t been mentioned by Mendo Officialdom since, even though we bring it up almost annually and it’s obviously a good idea.
Such a good idea, in fact, that Ukiah Police Chief Justin Wyatt appeared before the Committee on the 28th to describe a similar Eugene, Oregon program called “CAHOOTS” — Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, a highly successful program that they started more than 30 years ago but, as you might expect, is only now coming to the attention of Mendocino County.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article “The program in Eugene is unique because Cahoots is wired into the 911 system and responds to most calls without police. The name Cahoots was intended to be a humorous nod to the fact that they are working closely with police. Cahoots now has 39 employees and costs the city around $800,000 a year plus its vehicles, a fraction of the police department’s $58 million annual budget.”
Chief Wyatt said the Eugene program works well and should be considered by Mendo and the Oversight Committee. Of course there was a long conversation about it and how California’s new stricter “use of force” rules for cops would make the crisis van even more valuable, especially in cases where someone is suicidal but not otherwise violent or with a weapon. Wyatt said the CAHOOTS crisis van allows mental health staffers to “meet people where they are.”
Redwood Quality Management Director Dan Anderson said he was familiar with the concept and that his company gets “occasional requests to be mobile. We struggle to do that. But it’s haphazard; not coordinated with dispatch or law enforcement. We don’t know when; there’s no plan. It’s inconsistent and stressful. There are no clear directions. It’s off kilter.” In other words, a standard Mendo approach.
Anderson added that the idea would be “important to pursue. We would love to partner and be more mobile. It’s a good program. CAHOOTS is a place to begin. We should invite somebody down from Eugene. It would also allow patients to de-tox.”
The County’s Mental Health Director, Dr. Jenine Miller, agreed, saying she worked on a similar program in San Francisco before working for Mendo and it worked well. (So why didn’t she bring it up long ago? Don’t ask.) Miller also thought that the crisis van staff should have the ability to administer meds in the field. However, Miller muddied the water by suggesting they look at “the full spectrum of [crisis van] models.” (This alone means that any real consideration of the idea will be delayed by who knows how many more years.)
Measure B Committee Chair Dr. Ace Barash said he expected that the subject would be on their agenda next month when they would conduct a “robust discussion” of it. (Translation: We will talk about it for a while but never do a single thing. If they were serious, they’d have tasked somebody to do a presentation on the viability of a pilot program next month. But that’s obviously too much to ask.)
The Committee talked about how great it would be to have a psych tech program at Mendocino College to help fill the mental health services positions that are coming up but are hard to fill by outside hires.
They also talked about grants for a while. Upshot: There are mental health grants out there and it would be nice if Mendo got one or two.
They wasted about 15 minutes talking about ways to make themselves more audible. CEO Carmel Angelo even mentioned the option of hiring a sign language interpreter. Fort Bragg resident John Fremont had a simple idea when he asked them to “please speak up” but they apparently didn’t hear him.
Meanwhile, the County has a request for proposals out for an architect to evaluate the two candidate facility sites which might be awarded in the fall. Given the snail’s pace so far, that effort alone will take years before they even get to considering an architect’s opinion of Old Howard Hospital in Willits or the Orchard Avenue lot in Ukiah.
CEO Angelo said she’s still trying to hire a Measure B project manager in the wake of their first two offers having been rejected by the top two candidates. Interviews with a new set of applicants are underway. We assume they’ll at least be able to pass a drug test and be responsible.