City's Mental Health Program In Need of Reform Due to Financial Situation


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Berkeley's mental health division, which manages the city's unique mental health clinic, is evaluating ways to reform its financial and managerial structure in light of a half million dollar decrease in revenue over the last two years and a potential debt to the state of up to $6 million.

Due to a 19 percent decrease in money earned from sales tax and vehicle license fees and the fact that Alameda County has been withholding Medi-Cal revenue from the division, which may owe the state $6 million in audit exceptions, financial stability has been elusive for the division, according to a city Department of Health Services report presented to the Berkeley City Council Dec. 7.

The division is also not generating enough money through alternate revenue sources, such as Medi-Cal and Early Periodic Screening, Treatment, and Diagnosis Services for Children, according to department Director Beth Meyerson.

Following the retirements of former department director Fred Medrano in December 2009 and division manager Harvey Tureck in June 2010 and the 19 percent decline in the division's revenue, the city turned to management consulting firm Management Partners to conduct a financial review and organizational analysis of the division last May. The city received the firm's recommendations in October.

Since Berkeley is the only city in California that operates its own mental health system, the firm recommended that the division strengthen its relationship with Alameda County to facilitate financial and operational cooperation given that mental health services are generally provided by county government.

In an attempt to reach financial solvency, the division plans to limit expenditures to a predetermined amount, increase services funded by Medi-Cal and develop an audit reserve, according to the department report. To improve services, the division will remodel its facilities and reevaluate care plans to suit.

The report addresses a need for greater oversight - currently, the division has four supervisors for 60 employees while the industry standard is one supervisor for every seven employees.

"I was rather shocked, actually, to really understand what was going in relation to the supervision and the number of supervisors to the number of people providing service," said Mayor Tom Bates at the city council meeting Dec. 7. "I also was quite perturbed at seeing what I thought was a program that was well-run and well-managed to find out that in fact we had all kinds of major, major problems."

Considering the need for increased supervision combined with the necessity to cut $2 million in spending, the department is discussing different ways to consolidate staff, though it is unclear whether this will translate into job losses.

"Part of the discussion is how do we realign our existing staff resources, provide for better supervision so there is going to be some new job descriptions, some organizational changes," City Manager Phil Kamlarz said at the meeting. "The net result is less staff ... but there will be a realignment of the staff."

The proposed plan will not draw additional funds from the city - according to Kamlarz, the Mental Health Division intends to cut expenditures by $2 million by June 2012.

The city's mental health division serves citizens of both Berkeley and Albany. At present, the division receives funding from the city's general fund, Meyerson said, but does not receive any financial support from the city of Albany.


Sarah Mohamed covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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