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Friday, February 22 , 2019, 3:07 am | Fair 42º


New Mental Health Commissioner Roger Thompson Ready for Challenge

Consumer Advocacy Coalition leader eager to restore agency's effectiveness, oversight

The Santa Barbara County Mental Health Commission added a new face to its lineup when mental health advocate Roger Thompson was appointed Thursday by 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr.

Thompson, 28, is most recognizable from his role with the Consumer Advocacy Coalition, a group of people who use county mental health services, but has been serving as an alternate on the commission for about four months.

“The moment I shook her hand, I felt really honored and appreciative because hundreds of people have been supporting me,” Thompson said of Farr’s appointment. At the same time, however, he acknowledged he felt the “huge weight” of the task at hand and admits the three-year appointment is going to be a challenge.

The Mental Health Commission exists for advisory council and oversight on mental health issues. Evaluating county mental health agreements and submitting annual reports are all part of the job description.

“We’re supposed to be in the trenches looking and examining it all,” he said.

But the county Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services has been plagued by poor billing practices for years, and a July grand jury report pointed out that a large deficit run by ADMHS caused the department to reduce spending by $8.4 million in 2009.

Commission members are required to sit on a committee, but many have not met or submitted annual reports for years. Reviewing contracts and recommendations are also tasks that have been falling through the cracks.

“It’s easy to criticize, but if you really want to change things, you have to become the change you seek,” said Thompson, noting that he’d like to see timely public input and an overhaul of the absent committees.

“It is so important that there’s a strong communication between the supervisors and the commissioners,” he said, and that the commission reclaims its members’ position of oversight.

“The commission should know what’s being contracted out and we should be reviewing the outcomes,” he said.

In addition to serving as one of two appointees for the 3rd District, Thompson is also serving on the commission’s executive committee, as well as the Adult Systems of Care Committee.

Consumer Advocacy Coalition members sent in almost 50 letters earlier this year, calling for a replacement for Ann Eldridge, who had served on the commission for about 10 years.

“We were trying to focus our energy on getting new faces in,” Thompson said. “The commission was just stagnating.”

Eldridge is still serving as an alternate on the commission for 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray.

Thompson said his new appointment means he’ll have less time to devote to CAC, but that he feels he can make the most change for mental health by serving on the commission.

Last year, Thompson said he thought making a change meant going before the county Board of Supervisors to speak about mental health. “But there’s a lot more to it than that,” he said.

After realizing how crucial the Mental Health Commission was to county services, Thompson decided to pursue the position.

“This is ground zero,” he said of the group and the decisions that result. “Now consumers are being adequately represented for the first time years.”

The Mental Health Commission will hold its next meeting from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 18 at the Santa Maria Clinic, 500 W. Foster Road.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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