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MENTAL HEALTH REFORM GETS OK COUNTY SUPPORTS $186 MILLION PLAN.

Byline: TROY ANDERSON Staff Writer

In its first plan for how to spend revenue from a voter-approved state income tax on millionaires, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $186 million plan to overhaul Los Angeles County's mental health system.

More than 18,000 adults and children are expected to receive expanded mental health services beginning this fiscal year, and officials say the extra money will help get thousands of mentally ill transients off the streets.

``This is very huge,'' said Marvin Southard, director of the county's Department of Mental Health. ``This is really revolutionary.

``This is the first step in what will be a major change in the way the mental health system operates. It will be a first step in making it more customer-friendly, providing what people need rather than narrow mental health services.''

The plan helps restore some of the services cut since the early 1990s, when budget woes forced the state to close psychiatric hospitals and the county to close several of its mental-health clinics.

The newly approved plan calls for hiring 260 mental health workers and building a psychiatric urgent-care facility at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar.

``What we are trying to do is create a psychiatric urgent care facility where people who are in a psychiatric crisis, but probably won't get admitted to the emergency room, can go to get stabilized,'' Southard said.

``Rather than have them wait in the ER, which isn't necessarily a good place to be if they are in a mental health crisis, (this would) create an alternative place for them.''

Money for the plan comes from Proposition 63, passed by voters statewide in 2004 to help fund services for people with severe mental illness through a 1 percent tax on incomes of more than $1 million.

Southard said the initial round of funding will go to agencies that help the homeless on Skid Row and throughout the county, and includes $11.6 million for a trust fund to develop permanent housing for people with psychiatric disabilities.

That money will augment $100 million the supervisors recently designated and the $50 million Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has promised to help house the homeless. < Southard also said some of the $2.8 billion targeted for housing in a $37 billion state bond package set to appear on the November ballot could be used for homeless housing.

``The most important thing, from our perspective, is creating avenues for people to get off the streets,'' said Orlando Ward, spokesman for the Midnight Mission on Skid Row.

``We know from the physical exposure of people on the streets, particularly those suffering from untreated mental illness, we know their situation will not get better unless we find treatment for them.''

The funds will also be used to start and expand programs for people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and other serious conditions.

County programs are expected to include around-the-clock counseling and support, rent subsidies, resources for finding permanent, affordable housing, treatment for alcohol and drug problems, and drop-in centers.

It also will include counseling for teens leaving foster care, counseling for families with children who have severe emotional disorders, and transitional support for formerly homeless people.

The funds will also be used to set up more than a dozen transitional resource centers throughout the county, including in North Hills, Pasadena and Long Beach.

The facilities will help foster youth who have run away from the system or who have been emancipated at age 18 get housing, education and mental health services.

troy.anderson(at)dailynews.com

(213) 974-8985
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 10, 2006
Words:596
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