Santa Clara County ramps up mental health efforts

Bay Area

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — In Santa Clara County, community-based mental health response services are ramping up as the county is adopting new efforts to help individuals struggling with mental health. 

The county’s Behavioral Health Services Department is expanding its Community Mobile Response (CMR) program through a nearly $28M investment. 

The expanded program uses a model where community residents, mental health workers, and emergency medical services providers will respond to community mental health crises instead of local law enforcement. 

“With this new program the aim is to really have folks, individuals, individuals in crisis to seek help who may have not otherwise called because they are fearful of dialing 911 because it could be where there could be a law enforcement involvement in that response,” said Jeanne Moral, program manager for Santa Clara County’s Behavioral Health Department. 

 “This new project is funded through the Mental Health Services Act funding, so this really allows counties to test out new programming that has never been done before which is the case with the CMR in our county.” 

 In 2018, a Santa Clara County civil grand jury report found nearly 40% of police shootings in the county involved someone experiencing a mental health emergency. 

The county says the new program follows a community engagement and program development process initiated in response to the killing of George Floyd and other recent events that have heightened longstanding concerns related to law enforcement. 

“We have a lot of programs in place that are serving a lot of folks, literally thousands and thousands of folks who need and get the county’s help but we also know there’s a relatively small set of folks out there who are not getting the help they need,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian. 

“And partly because they don’t know they need the help, they are too ill to understand their own needs.” 

In addition to the CMR program, the county recently adopted Laura’s Law also known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) that legally requires individuals struggling with severe mental illness to comply with suggested treatment. 

Laura’s Law allows a court to compel residents into mental health treatment if they fail to follow through voluntary programs and end up in jail or in the hospital multiple times due to their mental illness. 

“This is one more tool that we can use to get to a group folks who aren’t getting the help that they deserve and it’s a relatively modest number of folks, but they are the highest need folks that you’re going to see out there in the street in the community too often,” said Simitian. 

“When they should be the beneficiaries of our mental health treatment here in the county.”

The CMR program will be operational for an entire year and begin administering services January 1 in three general areas of the county — San Jose, Gilroy and North County. 

The county says if the initial pilot program is successful, services will be expanded to other areas in the future. 

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