City Considers Plan to Help Fund Public Mental Health Programs

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The city of Berkeley began a 30-day public comment period Wednesday on a plan that would fund staff expansion and program development in its Mental Health Division.

The Workforce Education and Training Plan draft proposes that $659,500 in new state funding be allocated to publicly-funded mental health programs over a ten-year period.

The money would go towards programs aimed at training, technical assistance, staff support and financial incentives for graduate students and interns, said Josefa Molina, the division's provisional quality improvement supervisor.

"I think it's a really good plan," she said. "It will provide training for everyone in the system: community members, family members and consumers who are interested in public mental health."

The division, which provides a pay-as-you-can service for uninsured or underinsured individuals with extreme psychological issues, has close to 80 employees and is short-staffed, Molina said.

The plan "addresses the shortfall of qualified individuals who provide services in the local public mental health system," according to a city release.

Molina said the money would also be used to hire more employees to combat the growing demand from patients.

In addition, the funds would help increase the ethnic diversity and language proficiency of providers, as well as focus on multicultural and LGBT issues.

Molina said the comment period, which ends on May 28, should illuminate concerns community members may have on the money allocation.

"It depends on your perspective," she said. "Some people want more money on the consumer end and some people want more money on the training end."

Molina said the division will have to work hard to ensure the funds are spent appropriately, as some programs are expensive. For example, training sessions using a hired consultant can cost as much as $1,000 per day, she said.

"I don't know yet if the money will be sufficient because there are a lot of problems in the public mental health sector," Molina said.

The plan is part of the California's Mental Health Services Act, or Proposition 63, which was passed in November 2004 and placed a 1 percent tax on every dollar of personal income exceeding $1 million.

Jeff Prince, director of counseling and psychological services at UC Berkeley's Tang Center, said the health center is not eligible to receive money from the plan.

He said the campus's health center could get grants from the tax, but that a proposed referendum in May could divert mental health money back into the state budget.

"The plan was the UC systems could apply for grants for things like suicide prevention," Prince said. "But the trick that has happened is that there might not be any money to apply for."


Contact Anna Widdowson at [email protected]

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