Frustration was evident on the faces of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday as they watched and listened to a report given by the county administrator in charge of overseeing Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services.
The board was only expected to receive and file a financial update from ADMHS Director Ann Detrick, but her explanation got such a poor response from the supervisors that they couldn’t even do that.
“I don’t even want to receive and file, it was so bad,” Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray said in the meeting’s final minutes.
Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr also made it clear she wasn’t satisfied, and still had a number of questions about the department’s situation.
The department has a large budget, $76.2 million for 2011-12, but can’t seem to overcome its financial woes even after reducing staff and expenditures.
Detrick reported that core staff, such as those at the county’s Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF), have had a 39-percent reduction in full-time staff positions over the past six years.
But Farr took issue with that number, saying that full-time positions are actually scheduled to go up next year by 24, with 10 of those being administrative.
Part of that increase comes from six full-time positions being added to work directly with patients at the PHF unit. Those positions, including dieticians, are required because of a federal audit conducted of the facility last year.
But an administrative increase in positions weighed on Farr, and she said that other departments are expected to do more with less, while keeping staff static or even decreasing positions.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal agreed.
“Unless they’re front-line services, I’m a little weary about growing the administration,” he told Detrick.
He called upon CEO Chandra Wallar to review each of the positions proposed to be added.
Detrick said three of the administrative positions would help with the department’s protracted billing issues. But she couldn’t account for where the other seven positions would go. She said she thought they were tied to how the county calculates vacancies, but told Farr she’d need time to find the answer.
“We’re three weeks away from budget, I thought you would have known,” Farr responded.
The reduction of staffing in the clinics that serve children with mental illness was particularly concerning to Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf.
Staff dealing with mentally ill children across the county has been reduced from 67 to 42 since 2006.
Farr also took issue with that number, saying that the budget numbers she had in front of her have staffing at 28 positions, instead of 42, for the next two years. Detrick again said she wasn’t sure why the discrepancy.
Even as it has slashed positions, the department still faces a net shortfall of $3.6 million just for the current year.
That amount doesn’t hold a candle to the monstrous liability the department may owe the state, a total of $19.4 in liabilities. About $7.5 million is there to help cover that cost, Detrick said, but $11.9 still remains uncovered, and the supervisors will have to figure out how to deal with that cost during upcoming budget sessions.
Detrick said sorting out the liabilities has taken an enormous amount of staff time, and that she feels the department is in a much better place than it was a few years ago.
Another point of contention was a shuffling of the full-time positions left between funding sources.
The department has escaped a huge budget blow by moving 93 full-time positions that were formerly funded by core mental health funding to Mental Health Services Act funding, which has been a stable source of money for the county from the state.
But Carbajal expressed concern that funding those positions with MHSA money may be legally suspect. Detrick said her department got approval from county counsel for the funding decision, but Carbajal said he wants to see county counsel’s mental health legal decisions for himself from now on.
Gray agreed: “It appears to me the reason we continue to have huge liabilities is because of creative accounting on the mental health staff’s part,” she said. “This occurs over and over again.”
Carbajal said that he feels 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.”