The January 20th meeting of the County Behavioral Health Advisory Board (BHAB) was held at what some might term “ground zero” on the Mendocino Coast. In other words the location was the former Old Coast Hotel at the corner of Oak and Franklin Streets in Fort Bragg, now known as the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center (MCHC).
No sooner had the prior meeting's minutes been approved and “Public Comments” opened, Douglas Chouteau, who resides on Airport Road just north of Fort Bragg, made it clear that he believes that a rash of crimes in and near Fort Bragg has provided reason enough for criminal background checking of every client entering the Hospitality Center. At the end of the Public Comment session the new Board of Supervisors representative to the BHAB, John McCowen (replacing Dan Hamburg) stated, “There will be no background checks.”
He went on, “People with mental health issues are far more likely to be victims of crime than they are to commit a crime.”
At this point Mr. Chouteau uttered some loud, reactive phrases that couldn't be accurately heard at the other side of the room where yours truly sat. Chouteau's remarks were soon followed by those of his wife, Alice. In calmer tones, she presented what she considered a reasonable comparative scenario in which a driver is pulled over by the California Highway Patrol. In such an instance, Alice Chouteau insisted the CHP officer would run a check on the car and driver, and if that is so then why can't we background check all Hospitality Center clients.
Behavioral Health Advisory Board member (and Secretary) Dina Ortiz fumbled through one or two responses before settling on saying, “Sounds like what the Nazis did.”
And there you have it, Trumpism wrapped in the National Socialist Worker's Party has seemingly reared heads in Fort Bragg.
Right about here, the historically minded might be recalling Pastor Niemoller's famous lines: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist.
“Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew.
“Then they came for me- and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Originally Niemoller included another line, “Then they came for the sick, the so-called incurables...”
It is easy to lump and label, groups or solutions. The issue of mental health services is a bit more complex, even if major parts of the answer lie in simple things like Sheriff Tom Allman's desire to build a county mental health facility.
Some of the problems remain the same. Dr. Andrea McCullough of the Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH) appeared in the afternoon session. Representatives of Ortner Management Group had left the premises by that time. They probably didn't want to hear Dr. McCullough describe her experiences at MCDH in regard to the widely variable standard of service displayed when Ortner sends a crisis worker from inland to respond to mental health issues on the coast. McCullough did offer praise to Redwood Community Services for their work with under twenty-five year-olds at MCDH's Emergency Room. In turn she had positive remarks for the work done by the local subcontractor for adult mental health services, Integrated Care Management Solutions, as well as superlatives for the Fort Bragg Police Department and Sheriff's deputies who give up hour after hour of their law enforcement time baby sitting potential 5150 cases in MCDH's Emergency Room. McCullough stated that such situations often amount to 3-4 hour waits for Ortner personnel to arrive from inland Mendocino County at night or on weekends. McCullough pointed out that the inland providers sent by Ortner almost never identify what credentials they possess (Licensed social worker, MFT, and on down the educational and professional ladder). She also said that in a number of cases the physician on duty in the ER have had drastically differing opinions concerning the case at hand than the Ortner provider crisis responder. Readers may remember that Dr. Mcullough was one of dozens of Mendocino County ER professionals who signed on to a letter presented to the Board of Supervisors in December, a letter questioning the work of Ortner Management Group in regard to adult mental health clients seen in all of Mendocino County's hospitals.
Readers may also want to know that Anna Shaw, the executive director of Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center, was present at the January 20th meeting, but any questions directed to the Hospitality Center were answered by its Board President, Gary Johnson, or his wife, Lynelle Johnson, also a board member of MCHC.
After the meeting concluded Gary Johnson gave me a brief tour of the upstairs quarters of MCHC, where five rooms/apartments will eventually be made available for people transitioning out of homelessness. These rooms will not be used until this summer because a sixth, larger room is being restructured into a communal area with a full kitchen. In that area Johnson pointed out what has been reported/rumored to be widespread lead contamination. Johnson pointed to an area approximately eight feet long by three inches wide, stating that the entirety of the lead was confined to a single piece of boarding. He said it would be removed during the upcoming renovation. Work is not expected to commence in those upstairs rooms until February. The Johnsons' said this seeming delay was due only to MCHC following all the regulations in regard to renovation, including acquiring professional architectural plans for the renovation as well as due diligence in getting competitive bids for the work to be done.
Lynelle Johnson also made mention of the fact that while many church organizations have made halls available for this winter's Emergency Weather Shelters (EWS) on the Mendocino Coast, there is still a need for shelter locations for the weeks of February 15-20th, March 7-13th, March 14-20th, as well as the final week of March and the first two weeks of April. Anyone who can help out with the Emergency Winter Shelter should call Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center at 707-961-0172, remembering that outside of weekday business hours you are likely to get a voice directory instead of a real person.