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Hospitals Lead on Behavioral Health Care

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Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak at CHA’s Annual Behavioral Health Care Symposium, joined by hundreds of clinical professionals, representatives from government organizations, and hospital leaders. 

We gathered in Sacramento, united in purpose, to reaffirm our individual and collective commitment to advancing behavioral health care for all in California through advocacy, education, and empowerment. It’s safe to say that all attendees agree that the status quo is unacceptable. 

Nationwide, almost a quarter of adults with a mental illness are not able to receive the treatment they need. That number has not declined in over a decade. More troubling: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the average delay between the onset of mental health symptoms and access to treatment is between eight and 10 years. This is what millions of Californians with behavioral health conditions face every day. 

That means Californians who need treatment are increasingly turning to hospital emergency departments for care. That’s where the numbers are getting scarier by the day. Here’s where things stand: 

  • People with behavioral health diagnoses account for one in three patients in California hospitals. 
  • 20% of all emergency department visits are by someone in need of behavioral health care. 
  • Things are getting worse for children — adolescents’ visits to emergency departments due to a mental health crisis climbed by nearly one-third during the pandemic, and there is a major spike in suicide rates among those ages 10 to 18 in California, with Black, Hispanic, and females at the highest risk. 

Hospitals have not stood idly. In March, voters will cast ballots on Proposition 1, a package of CHA-supported legislation passed this year that will transform the state’s mental health system to better meet the growing needs of Californians.  

The package, thanks to the leadership of Gov. Newsom, incorporates two bills: Senate Bill 326 (Eggman, D-Stockton), which modernizes the Mental Health Services Act, and Assembly Bill 531 (Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks), a $6.38 billion bond to build new behavioral health housing and treatment settings. If approved, the measure would have a significant, positive impact on hospitals’ ability to enhance care for people needing behavioral health services. 

Passage of Proposition 1 will mean more housing for those living on the streets. It will mean those facing mental health and substance use disorders can get the support and care they need. It will mean people getting out of tents and into treatment. 

As we continue to advocate for improving behavioral health care, this week’s gathering in Sacramento was heartening — it reminds us all that with so many people committed to such a noble cause, the question of better care for all is a matter of “when,” not “if.”