Last Friday a coalition of the willing gathered at the offices of St. Joseph’s Health Care in Irvine to discuss forging a common front in improving mental and behavioral health care outcomes in Orange County.

The participants included government, our hospitals, our health care agency, the Catholic Diocese of Orange, Saddleback Church, NAMI – Orange County and a range of other stakeholders.

We heard from Leon Evans, who runs the Restoration Center in San Antonio, Texas where in combination with the Haven For Hope housing and care continuum, the vicious cycle of incarceration, homelessness, severe mental illness and addiction has been broken.

With restorative care and supportive housing, emergency room visits in San Antonio have dropped by 40% while the State of Texas has been able to close 3 prisons. The population of homeless individuals in Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, has dropped by 88%. The cost savings have been substantial.

Law enforcement, who were skeptical at the beginning, now works closely with the Restoration Center and Haven For Hope. This is one model for care in Orange County. And as outgoing Director of the Orange County Health Care Agency Mark Refowitz said,”when we do things in Orange County, we do them right.”

Katrina Foley, the Mayor of Costa Mesa urged an inclusive approach that addresses addiction, incarceration, homelessness, and mental illness. Other participants noted that data from existing permanent supportive housing programs has reduced the re-admission rates in Orange County’s hospitals and recidivism rate in our jails by over 90% for those individuals participating.

Kay Warren of Saddleback Church noted that even with insurance, the lack of knowledge of resources and options obstructed her family’s ability to find adequate mental health care for their son.

Wraparound care, family education and better integration of existing services and programs were also discussed as evidence based components of whole person healing.

One of the possibilities discussed at the meeting was the opportunity presented in using a portion of the Fairview Developmental Center site for mental health care. As Dr. Refowitz noted, “God has given us a gift.”

But this meeting was much more than a discussion of just one site. It was a first step in an integrated, community based movement to solve some of our society’s greatest problems.

In her 100 Day Report, Susan Price, Orange County’s director of care coordination for the homeless noted that the two greatest issues facing us are a lack of communication and a lack of coordination. The meeting at St. Joseph’s was a first step in addressing those issues.

Orange County has an opportunity to lead the way in effective and compassionate care while addressing the soaring costs of health care and imprisonment. There has been a confluence of events such as the Gathering on Mental Health and the Churc and our Supervisors proactive stance on mental health issues that has helped to build a growing consensus that we can do much better and do it more effectively. Our politicians know this. Our medical professionals know this. Our law enforcement community knows this. Our housing experts know this. And our community and faith leaders and families know this.

Adapting and integrating our safety net, de-stigmatization, and addressing the root causes and whole person will save lives and reduce costs. The Coalition is a great first step in this direction.

Matt Holzmann, Chair – Government Relations for NAMI – Orange County

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

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