South Tahoe mental health monitors new federal, state bills |

South Tahoe mental health monitors new federal, state bills

Axie Navas

The senate is expected to consider national legislation next week that would increase funding for community mental health centers.

It’s still unclear how that legislation, which includes the Excellence in Mental Health Act, could affect South Shore facilities, according to El Dorado County Mental Health Division Program Manager Ren Scammon. But while the bills have a long way past the president’s desk, National Alliance on Mental Illness South Lake Tahoe President Diana Hankins said the funding could create wrap-around mental health programs in the community.

The Excellence in Mental Health Act promises to increase access to local mental health centers and improve Medicaid — called Medi-Cal in California — reimbursement for behavioral health services. The measure would provide care for an additional 1.5 million Americans who cope with mental health disorders by pouring $1.4 billion in Medicaid funding over a 10-year period, according to a press release from the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

“What we need is for the community to get funds for a wrap-around program,” Hankins said. “I’m excited about this and I hope it does get passed.”

Hankins outlined an intensive program that would provide services such as training, intervention, medical health care, addiction and safety net providers. The Excellence in Mental Health Act could provide funds for a 23-hour holding facility or crisis truck that would be immediately available for someone in crisis, Hankins said.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that one in five people over the age of 18 develop some sort of mental health illness. A local community health needs assessment from Barton Health reported more than a quarter of South Shore residents seek help at one point in their lives for mental health issues. And almost three out of 10 people in the survey area exhibited symptoms of chronic depression for two or more years.

South Lake Tahoe’s rural setting contributes to more limited mental health care services, according to Hankins. Barton Memorial Hospital doesn’t specialize in psychiatry, and El Dorado Mental Health psychiatrists are only available through teleconferencing. The county’s Psychiatric Health Facility for crisis intervention is located over an hour away in Placerville, Calif.

“With the economy in Tahoe as it is today, it’s rough on people. And when you’re in crisis, you can’t wait,” Hankins said.

The new emphasis on mental health, tied at least partly to the shooting in Newtown, Conn., last year, could bolster some of the local mental health coffers. Scammon said that while El Dorado County hasn’t yet received any funding because of recent events, legislators in California and throughout the U.S. seem to have aimed new light on the subject.

“There appears to be a renewed focus on mental health services and an increased awareness about mental health issues at both the state and federal levels,” Scammon wrote in an email.

In addition to the Excellence in Mental Health Act, there are four new bills introduced to the California legislature that would amend Laura’s Law, a measure that allows courts to mandate people with severe mental illness accept treatment.

Senate bill 585 clarifies that Mental Health Services Act, or Proposition 63 funds, can be used by counties to implement Laura’s Law while Senate bill 664 states that a county can institute the law without undertaking a special board of supervisors vote. The two Assembly bills increase the amount of time a patient can undergo treatment and clarify what money can be used to support Laura’s Law.

So far, Nevada County is the only region to fully implement Laura’s Law.

“Mental health is a touchy, touchy subject. But it’s not going to go away,” Hankins said.

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