Yolo County is looking to cut back on services offered through the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Department in an attempt to balance the department’s budget.
ADMH has been among the county departments with the largest budget deficit for several years.
“We have a department that frankly was not managed very well, and over the years the problem has compounded and compounded and this board has said ‘no more,'” said Mariko Yamada, county supervisor. “We have to make some tough decisions.”
After receiving the news that the department was projected to experience a multi-million dollar budget deficit for the fourth year in a row, the board of supervisors ordered the county administrator’s office to conduct an assessment of ADMH’s operations and budget.
The initial assessment, received in March, made 61 recommendations to the board including the hiring of Ed Smith, who has 20 years of experience managing county mental health departments, according to the board’s agenda notes.
“For the last month and a half, I’ve been talking to people and seeing what programs we can make some changes in to bring the balance back,” Smith said. “I submitted a preliminary budget to the board that will take $4 million from the department’s budget.”
Smith’s proposal would shrink the ADMH budget from $21 to $16.6 million and hopefully eliminate the department’s need to be supplemented by the county general fund.
The proposal would cut 35 staff positions as well as some services for which the county contracts with independent providers like hospitals, mental institutions and suicide prevention groups.
“Some people will get limited service,” Smith said. “We’re going to focus on the seriously and persistently mentally ill.”
The changes will eliminate the mental health department’s ability to treat patients with purely drug or alcohol problems and leave out patients with problems not caused by mental illness such as dementia and senility.
“We’re trying to re-stabilize and restructure the department so that the most vulnerable and most in need people can still be served,” Yamada said.
Difficulties in mental health budgets throughout California persist despite Proposition 63, passed by Californians in 2004, which imposes a 1 percent tax on millionaires’ incomes specifically to fund mental health services.
“It was well-intended but the way it was written [makes it so] you can’t use the new money [generated by the tax] to replace money being spent in exiting programs,” Yamada said. “This is like starving to death outside the grocery store.”
In Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’sJanuary budget message, he recommended an across-the-board 10 percent reduction to all departments.
“I’ll be arguing for a more surgical approach to the changes, not one size fits all,” Yamada said. “All of our departments are facing reductions, but the mental health had other problems that have been magnified.”
The department’s final budget will be determined by the board during budget hearings which begin June 17.
“This situation has been a long time in developing and a lot of people have tried to fix it,” Yamada said. “We’re at a point now wherewe must act.”
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.