Mental health services inadequate, grand jury says |

Mental health services inadequate, grand jury says

Jeff Munson, Tribune city editor

El Dorado County mental health services for South Lake Tahoe is plagued by high turnover, understaffing, lack of training and low pay, a grand jury report released Friday said.

The annual evaluation made by 19 El Dorado County residents criticized the county’s commitment to funding mental health services in South Lake Tahoe, which grew to about 300 regular clients last year.

Jurors criticized the county board of supervisors for not giving the agency enough money to fund mental health programs, staffing and services.

“It was unconscionable for the board to use discretionary funds for community enhancement projects like the grant of $100,0000 for the South Lake Animal Shelter while failing to provide adequate space for treatment of the severely and chronically mentally ill clients of the clinic who are the least able members of our community to fend for themselves,” the report stated.

The agency, which is housed in Placerville and South Lake Tahoe, has a budget of $9.7 million, which includes about $345,0000 from the county general fund.

The South Lake Tahoe clinic has money for 36 positions allocated, but turnover is high, with four clinical positions vacant last year.

The facility operates an adult and emergency crisis program, a medication program, psychiatric emergency services and mental health counseling.

The report attributes employee shortage to the high cost of housing in South Lake Tahoe, which makes it difficult to recruit employees to live in the area.

The report was critical of the agency’s crisis line program, which handles emergency calls on a 24-hour basis.

The grand jury found that after regular business hours, crisis calls are routed through an answering service where information is forwarded by pager to a contract employee.

These crisis workers must then call the answering service back, then call the person reporting the emergency.

Each of the steps requires time and creates delays in the communication process, the report stated.

“Because of the response time, the mental condition of callers experiencing mental health crisis and/or threatening suicide is aggravated by delays,” the report stated.

Jurors recommend the agency overhaul its crisis line system.

In addition, the report was critical of the South Shore facilities, saying the 3,475-square-foot office is too small to meet the needs of clients.

The adult day treatment program for extreme cases of mentally ill patients, for example, is housed in a 400-square-foot room.

The program, which has between 15 and 17 regular clients, is growing but has been delayed by inadequate facilities and funding, the report says.

The result has been the neglect of programs for the mentally ill that have not been utilized, the report states.

Jurors are recommending a management audit of the agency to determine reasons for the disparities.

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