The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday not to approve switching the Juvenile Justice Mental Health services from county staff to a private contractor — at least not yet.
After much discussion Tuesday, the board decided to approve a contract with Corizon for medical services at the County Jail, Santa Maria Juvenile Hall and Los Prietos Boys Camp, which have been in effect for a few years. Corizon has been providing mental health services for the County Jail since 2009, and Sheriff Bill Brown said its work has been “nothing short of exemplary.”
Costs for using staff members from the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services Department have been increasing every year, and Probation Chief Bev Taylor proposed using Corizon for the Juvenile Hall and Boys Camp to save about $300,000 next year in the face of yearly budget cuts.
The proposal has nothing to do with the services provided, which are excellent, she said.
The proposed $10.8 million contract was for two years, covering all medical, mental health and pharmaceutical services for the Sheriff’s and Probation departments. Staffing and service levels would remain the same for the Juvenile Justice Mental Health program under the contract, Taylor said.
The supervisors weren’t entirely convinced, particularly about having people on-call for emergency situations and quick evaluations. They delayed a decision for mental health services and ordered the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council to take a look at the contract.
Supervisor Janet Wolf has been one of the most outspoken about her concerns.
“I can’t help but think, if it’s not broken, why fix it,” she said. “If it’s a matter of $300,000, then we need to look at our values and what these kids are going through, the mental illness these kids are going through, and the treatment that they will be receiving. I just urge all of us to take careful note in the significant change. We did it with the adult population and at that time I had concerns about that, but to make this change to the kids is rather drastic, and I would submit unnecessary, and we should be able to find the funding to keep the system in place that’s working.”
Supervisor Steve Lavagnino noted the concerns and said he would be supportive of the contract if it truly keeps the same service levels.
“If we can’t afford what we have then we are broken, financially,” he noted.
The medical and pharmaceutical parts of the Corizon contract were approved unanimously, and the issue of mental health services for juveniles will come back at a future meeting.
Cmdr. Darin Fotheringham, who oversees jail operations, noted that pharmaceutical costs are constantly rising as well. The cost per year is decided by the medical issues of inmates, but the costs have bounced between $500,000 and $700,000 per year for the last five years.
Famously, the County Jail had an inmate last year who would have cost the county $510,000 in medical bills alone had he spent a whole year in custody, Fotheringham said.
The man, whose name and condition weren’t released due to patient privacy laws, was booked into the County Jail for attempted murder and a year’s worth of his medicine exceeded the entire budget for prescription drugs for all inmates.
The Sheriff’s Department expects some savings by using Corizon for pharmaceutical services, as a pass-through pharmacy, he said. Probation spends $100,000 to $200,000 per year on pharmaceutical services. Last year, in 2011-12, costs went up 41 and 28 percent, respectively, for the Sheriff and Probation departments.