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Off and Running Toward Better Behavioral Health Care

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In less than two months, Californians will head to the polls — or the post office for those who prefer mail-in ballots — for the 2024 primary election. A ballot question, Proposition 1, will ask voters to weigh in on whether or not to support a sweeping modernization of the state’s mental health system. This proposal will refocus billions of dollars in existing funds to prioritize Californians with the deepest mental health needs, living in encampments, or suffering the worst substance use disorders. 

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to join an amazing group of women leaders in support of this measure — Sen. Susan Eggman, Assembly Member Jacqui Irwin, Assembly Majority Leader Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, CalChamber President & CEO Jennifer Barrera, National Alliance on Mental Illness California Executive Director Jessica Cruz, Sutter Health Chief Public Affairs Officer Grace Davis, and UC Davis emergency physician Anna Yap, MD — to speak to the media about the measure’s potential to create significant positive change for California

All who spoke shared the vision of a behavioral health care system that is more efficient at delivering care, more accessible for all, and more attuned to the individual needs of those facing the greatest challenges. For hospitals, whose emergency departments are often the first place those who need treatment turn to, the widely supported Proposition 1 would help improve care delivery in several ways. 

First, the measure would bolster the capacity to care for those who need inpatient psychiatric services (a recent report from the RAND Corp. found that California has a shortfall of nearly 8,000 behavioral health beds). The measure would direct some $6.4 billion toward behavioral health housing and treatment infrastructure. Of this, $2.9 billion will be available for grants to sustain the Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program, which has awarded approximately $1.5 billion to hospitals, community providers, cities, and counties over the past several years. 

Second, Proposition 1 would make meaningful updates to current law governing the treatment of people with behavioral health needs. This includes:  

  • Permitting Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funds to be used to treat people with substance use disorders 
  • Requiring counties to expand spending on wrap-around treatment slots 
  • Requiring counties to expand spending on projects that reduce homelessness among people with behavioral health needs 
  • Directing state health plan regulators to develop a plan for achieving parity between commercial and Medi-Cal for behavioral health service benefits 
  • Improving state oversight of county planning and spending of MHSA and other public funding for behavioral health 
  • And more 

It was humbling to stand alongside that impressive group of leaders on Tuesday — not only because of what they have accomplished in service of better behavioral health for California, but also because of the strength of their resolve in delivering this next step forward for those who continue to struggle every day with illnesses that demand our support and attention.