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Calif mental health dollars bypassing mentally ill

By Hannah Dreier

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, July 28 2012 4:01 p.m. MDT

"It's almost like they were propping up other areas of the county with Prop 63 funds instead of directly taking care of the sick people," he said.

Rusty Selix, executive director of the California Council of Mental Health Agencies and co-author of Proposition 63, believes counties must be given leeway to develop the most effective programs for their residents.

"We have to learn how to do prevention," he said. However, Selix acknowledged it can be difficult to see the correlation between mental health prevention and certain wellness programs. "I kind of raise my eyebrows at some of these general wellness campaigns, but I have to admit, they may have payoff."

Some mental health advocates and public health workers see an opportunity in Brown's elimination of the Department of Mental Health and shift of some Proposition 63 oversight to the counties to look at how revenue is spent. They want the Legislature to pass a "clarifying amendment" stipulating money raised by the millionaire's tax go only to help people with mental and emotional problems.

This year's state budget included several tweaks to Proposition 63 procedures, which are passed with a simple majority. However, so far, critics of wellness programs haven't found a lawmaker willing to introduce the amendment they seek.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who wrote Proposition 63 with Selix, doesn't think a change is needed.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, allowed that he might have crafted the measure differently if he had known about the dramatic cuts that lay ahead, but defended the prevention programs, which include anti-stigma campaigns, as the best way to start moving beyond a system where people must succumb to their illness before they can get help.

"Prevention and early intervention is the only way that we are going to change attitudes and make sure people get help before they become a statistic." he said. "It is vital, especially in communities that have traditionally seen mental health services as a stigma and as something to avoid, to draw people in and to create an atmosphere where getting help is seen as OK."

In March, the state Oversight and Accountability Commission began its first evaluation of the wellness programs. For years, the only evaluations came from county administrators who, a 2011 UCLA study found, have never reported a negative or neutral finding. Results are expected next May.

Meantime, Selix stands by the decision to fund wellness programs with millionaire's tax money.

"We knew that most of the people in counties were not in favor of doing prevention, and we feared that they would take that money and divert it to people who were already sick by saying, 'Well, they could get sicker,'" he said.

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