Bill to Make Mental Health Funds More Flexible Sparks Movement at Dept of Health Care Services

Pivotal Victory Clarifies Use of Mental Health Services Act Funds
Thursday, July 21, 2016

Yesterday, the State of California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) issued Information Notice: 16-034, which clarifies that counties can use Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funding to provide crisis stabilization services to clients on a voluntary or involuntary basis.

The spark for the clarification came from the bi-partisan legislative effort lead by Senator John Moorlach and Senate Bill 1273, which passed with a 38-0 vote off the Senate Floor, and passed with an 18-0 out of the Assembly Health Committee. This is a momentous victory for the mental health community in Orange County, as well as counties up and down the state. The bill was co-authored by Senator Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), Senator Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield) and other legislators.

"I am thrilled that the Department of Health Care Services has acted on the intended goal of SB 1273. Allowing counties greater flexibility in the use of MHSA funds not only directly benefits the mental health community, but it also relieves our police officers, first responders and our emergency rooms that have been so over-burdened caring for people for which they were unequipped to adequately handle," said Senator Moorlach. "There is no doubt that we are facing a critical mental health crisis. This simple clarification is a victory, as it gives the flexibility to better fund outpatient care and serves as a valuable tool to ensure that patients in psychiatric crisis receive prompt and effective therapeutic evaluations and treatment."

Senate Bill 1273 gained early and widespread support by the Steinberg Institute, County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California, California Psychiatric Association, American College of Emergency Physicians-California Chapter, California Emergency Nurses Association, St. Joseph Hoag Health System, St. Joseph Hospital, Hoag Memorial Presbyterian, St. Jude Medical Center, Tenet Health, Orange County Medical Association, California State Association of Counties, Urban Counties of California, County of Orange, City of Newport Beach, League of California Cities-Orange County, California State Sheriff’s Association, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Orange County Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association and others.

"The County is currently exploring options to expand our crisis stabilization services and this notice couldn’t have come at a better time," said Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett.

"Crisis stabilization services are a critical component of Orange County's comprehensive response to mental health and homelessness," said Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, who has worked to streamline the delivery of county social services. "For too long, bureaucratic restrictions have blocked millions of dollars in mental health funds from being used for our greatest need. I'm grateful to Senator Moorlach for his work with the Department of Health Care Services to remove the bureaucratic restrictions that have blocked access to care."

“The Mental Health Services Act was intended to help people get the services they need, and the legal circumstances under which they’re accessing that vital care shouldn’t serve as an unnecessary barrier to treatment. This policy clarification is good for clients, families and providers,” said Mark Refowitz, Director of the OC Health Care Agency.

“Orange County’s 624 ER beds must be reserved for medical emergencies. This landmark opinion resulting from the Senator’s forward-thinking legislation will allow Orange County to develop a network of mental health urgent care centers designed for responsive therapeutic treatment, thereby preserving critical ER access for patients with true medical emergencies," said Steven C. Moreau, President and Chief Executive Officer of St. Joseph Hospital.