Big changes may be in store for the Santa Barbara County Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services. The details are being worked out in the wings, and are expected to be released to the public in the spring.
The county Board of Supervisors authorized two consultants to be brought on to look at inpatient and outpatient systems within the department last fall.
Health Management and Associates is examining inpatient services, such as the county’s beleaguered psychiatric health facility and what can be improved.
In October, HMA started its inpatient review first because that had been a “very directed look” from supervisors, according to Assistant County CEO Terri Maus-Nisich.
Several months later, county supervisors voted to expand that look and have the company explore what it would mean to open a psychiatric facility in the north county at an old Marian Medical Center.
Another company, Tri-West Association, is looking at the outpatient operations, including clinic operations, Crisis and Recovery Emergency Services, mobile units and the like.
Around the same time, Director Ann Detrick abruptly announced her resignation from ADMHS.
“As I leave, I am very optimistic about the future of county services for persons of all ages with serious mental illness and their families,” she said.
Dr. Takashi Wada was appointed interim director in Detrick’s wake, and Maus-Nisich said the county is not looking for a new director currently and won’t explore that until the reports come out.
“That will determine what we want to do in terms of overall structure,” she said, and whether certain areas of public health and mental health can be combined or consolidated.
The audits stemmed out of some simmering anger voiced by county supervisors last summer. They called on an outside contractor examine the pros and cons of combining ADMHS with the Public Health Department in order to solve some of mental health’s financial problems.
“A new paradigm is needed for the mental health department,” Supervisor Salud Carbajal said then. “I, for too long, have been waiting anxiously to see the drastic changes that have been needed. ... It’s time to take a different approach.”
After another particularly harsh meeting with Detrick, supervisors expressed their frustration with how the department was being run. Carbajal said then that he felt like mental health woes come before the board on a monthly basis.
“We’re dealing with issue in closed session that the public doesn’t even know about,” he said. “I’m at the end of my rope. … There’s got to be a better, more appropriate, more accountable way of running this department.”
As for the report in the works and what it may reveal, Maus-Nisich said there aren’t any reports that can be made public yet because they’re still in a nascent stage.
The county’s 19-member executive advisory committee has been going over the findings, and the committee has been providing additional input.
“We’re still doing the back and forth of the dialogue,” Maus-Nisich said, adding that a report, and recommendations, are likely to go before supervisors in March or April. “I think there’s going to be a lot of discussion that goes on.”