Last week some local newspapers published what was essentially a press release from Mendocino County’s Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA). The article opens with the line, “Responding to ‘local media (reports) of allegations of poor mental health services,’ the Mendocino County HHSA on Monday issued a statement explaining that mental health services still exist, and inviting the public to participate in the process.”
The nameless, faceless folks heading the Health and Human Services Agency would like anybody in Mendocino County to participate as long as those participants don’t criticize what is going on with mental health services in this county. As readers will remember, Mendocino County privatized its mental health services as of July 1, 2013. Redwood Quality Management Company (RQMC) will receive $8.8 million for fiscal year 2013-2014 to provide mental health services to children and youths under the age of twenty-one. The for-profit Ortner Management Group is receiving $6.7 million for adult mental health services. Ortner was also allotted $79,754 for preparation and transition during the month of June, 2013. RQMC, despite a larger contract, was allotted $68,000 for the transitional month. Could this be because RQMC has already been providing services in this county for years?
Given that the contracts indicate a starting date of July 1st, notice this line from the HHSA press release, “the contractors on July 15th began answering the mental health services crisis line.”
What happened to people in crisis from July 1 to July 14? Did Mendocino County receive a refund for the lack of services provided for the first two weeks of the contracted period? If not, why not? Maybe taxpayers should get two weeks subtracted from their bills this year? Apparently, the reverse is true; Mendocino County taxpayers are paying for two weeks worth of contracted mental health service that did not occur. Two weeks of this privatized mental health service costs the county approximately $595,000! Ortner’s share of that is about $257,000!
Last week’s press release from Mendocino County’s HHSA makes no mention of the fact that Ukiah’s Ford Street Project backed out of a subcontract with Ortner Management Group because Ford Street wasn’t being compensated for the amount of time its staff put into organizing the operational procedures for the new system of services.
The HHSA press release also claims, “During the transition, services have actually been enhanced,” and that the rollover of the crisis line from county staff to the contractors “went smoothly and was seamless to the public.”
It certainly wasn’t seamless for the person who sent this email about the crisis line: “Mendocino County has just informed me that they lost all records of my August [dates deleted to protect privacy] phone calls to the Mental Health Crisis Line to get help for my son.”
The email goes on to say: “Please create a crisis communication system that works as this is unacceptable. My calls went to 800-555-5906, one of seven Mendocino County Crisis Lines.”
That 800-555-5906 number is still the one plastered across Mendocino County’s HHSA homepage for Behavioral Health & Recovery Services as the crisis line. Hopefully, it works better in late November than it did in August, a month for which Ortner Management Group was doled out more than $558, 000 to provide mental health care for the citizens of Mendocino County.
The AVA and this writer followed the case of that parent and adult child from that point on (see AVA issues of September 11, 25, and October 16, 2013). The HHSA press release characterizes such reporting thus: “It is especially unfortunate that some individuals choose to discuss knowledge of very particular cases, something that providers cannot respond to out of courtesy to the families involved and due to strict confidentiality laws and HIPAA requirements. No story is one-dimensional. Often there are many, many facets to consider. Certainly they are not to be played out in the pages of any local media outlet. To do so is to risk victimizing the patient, their family and friends.”
Readers should know that the parent whose emails were quoted here, and in earlier issues, brought the story to us, through an intermediary at first, then at times directly, either via email or phone conversations. The parent was extremely frustrated with the lack of and/or quality of mental health services being provided for the adult patient. Furthermore, copies of the email quoted above, and many more, were also sent to the county’s mental health director, two county supervisors, the county sheriff, a local police chief, and many of the members of the county mental health board. In the AVA the names of the parent and the adult child were changed to protect their identity. The same can’t be said for one publicly attended Mendocino County Mental Health Board meeting at which the full name of one of these people was blurted out by an official who should know better. The reality is that the case of the adult patient might not have progressed as far as it has to date if the parent wasn’t willing to be so publicly vocal.
The hierarchy of Mendocino County’s Heath and Human Services Agency (Stacey Cryer is the agency director, Tom Pinizzotto is assistant director/ head of Mental Health Services) would do far better to concern themselves with making privatized companies such as Ortner Management Group more accountable than spending taxpayer time and money worrying about press coverage that brings problems with the current mental health service system to the light of day.