When I recently learned that Governor Jerry Brown plans to consolidate the Department of Mental Health (DMH) and Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) into the Department of Health Care Services (DHS), I became immediately concerned. My worries were deepened upon discovering that the governor also intends to take the Office of Minority Health (OMH) and put it in the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
This shell game is a supposedly a "cost-saving" measure that will, in effect, once again have California's most vulnerable populations roaming the streets. Remember what happened when they closed the state mental health hospitals and scores of our most vulnerable citizens wound up in the penitentiary, locked up because of their behavior disorders, instead of getting the help they needed?
After finally securing money for mental health services and funding back in 2004 through the passage of Proposition 63, the governor is asking us to take several steps backwards and dissolve the Proposition 63 Oversight Committee. Yes, Proposition 63 included a state wide oversight committee and state a wide coalition meeting to make sure that the plans in place were competent. Under this new idea however, we will instead have a big vacuum sucking up those funds without the voter's intended uses being monitored.
The governor's reasoning for this plan is that it will save the state money, but thus far I have not seen figures that back his claim up. And even if there were really a "savings," would it be worth it if you dilute services that have been most needed by vulnerable Californians?
Under the proposed shift, DMH, DHS, and the counties will not be able to maintain providing quality services to those in need. According to my knowledge as a resident and local activist, the County of San Bernardino's Pubic Health Department has yet to create a health plan to address the health disparities currently existing in our county's communities (even though our county has been given "the OK" to move forward back in 2008 through AB 681). It would be horrible for the residents of our county if they were asked to take on the responsibility for the Office of Minority Health as well.
Coincidentally AB 109 (realignment) has transferred supervision of thousands of prisoners to the county level without having a transitory plan to assimilate that many folks back into the community. The county departments are already asked to do more with less. Is it feasible to ask them to manage another program? Does it make sense to relive the horrors of the 1980s post Proposition 13, the closing of the state mental hospitals and beginning of an explosion within our 33 prisons?
The governor's proposal is shortsighted and misguided. We should instead think about how to re-invest in education, health care and prevention measures.