Pictured: Ventura County Behavioral Health Advisory Council meeting on September 20, 2021. Screenshot from streaming video.
by Kimberly Rivers
At the September 20 meeting of the Ventura County Behavioral Health Advisory Board (BHAB), members asked for clarification on what happens once recommendations are made to the Ventura County Oversight Board.
During the meeting, President Emeritus Jerry Harris asked for clarification on the appropriate process for how recommendations made by the BHAB are presented to elected supervisors for discussion and review. He pointed out that the majority of reports and letters produced by BHAB are “receive and deliver” agenda items to supervisors and are subject to little discussion.
Cheryl Heitmann supported Harris’ request, saying BHAB has many new members and it would be helpful if everyone understood the process and their responsibilities. She also inquired about the process for including ideas from BHAB members on their meeting agendas.
“We never hear about it again, let’s go”
Dr Sevet Johnson, director of Ventura County Behavioral Health, responded by pointing out that on June 22, 2021, two elements of BHAB were in front of supervisors and Harris had up to 30 minutes to provide any information he wanted to supervisors. She also pointed out that the California Welfare and Institutions Code, which includes BHAB’s mandates, does not tell supervisors how to respond to recommendations produced by BHAB.
She appeared to reject Harris’ request, stating that the procedures are “defined and described in the county administrative manual” and that she had “emailed it” previously to BHAB members, but that she could do so. do it again.
“I was not given advance notice that I would be talking about the LPS report,” Harris replied of the June 22 meeting, saying he had done his best without warning. The LPS report ??? PLEASE SET LPS ??? was submitted by the BHAB regarding areas where improvements are needed in mental health services in the county. “I don’t think there is no obligation for the supervisory board to review, discuss and decide on the work and recommendations. [of the BHAB]. Otherwise, we’re all shooting together and we don’t need to be here. . . I maintain my two requests.
He stressed that the two items on the June 22 agenda for supervisors were still “to be received and filed” and said he felt the BHAB was doing “very poorly” to see its recommendations implemented.
“Most of our recommendations, when they come to the board to receive and table, it’s a bottomless pit, we never hear about it again, let’s go,” Harris said. He asked county staff to make a presentation to BHAB “as soon as possible, hopefully at next month’s meeting.”
In particular, he wanted to know how “decisions are made about what can be conveyed to the board” and how BHAB items are either placed on the consent agenda, which are not discussed, or as that item of the agenda to be discussed and “act by the board of directors.”
Harris was concerned that the BHAB would not abide by its state charter because in his opinion supervisors rarely act on its recommendations, or even discuss them in open public meetings.
Needs assessment needed
BHAB members have been calling for a mental health needs assessment for several years so the department can identify gaps and then set goals to address those gaps in services and treatment in the county. Several members of BHAB, as well as members of the public, pointed out the lack of long-term beds available for the critically mentally ill in the county. State reports say the county should have a minimum of around 400 beds. Today, most county residents who require long-term care for mental illness are sent to out-of-county facilities that the department contracts with.
Michael Rodriguez, President of BHAB, facilitated the formation of two working groups to finalize a recommendation letter and report on funding options for the needs assessment.
Rodriguez said the more options BHAB presents to the board that make the assessment “feasible, the better our chances of getting them approved” and conducting the assessment.
Chris Tejada, a new member of BHAB, inquired about the contract review process, one of the advisory committee’s mandated tasks. He pointed to a recent contract involving mental health care at the prison, and that reviewing the contract after it was approved seemed less effective than reviewing and commenting on contracts in “real time”.
Johnson pointed out that this particular contract was administered by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and would not report to the Behavioral Health Department or the BHAB.
All BHAB members are volunteers and are appointed by supervisors.
The BHAB meets on the third Monday of each month, from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. More information online at vcbh.org/en/behavioral-health-advisory-board-meetings.
The September 20 meeting of the Ventura County Behavioral Health Advisory Council: