Tucson is my old stomping ground. Before moving to San Francisco I worked for a publicly funded behavioral health provider there. We were hardcore: distributing methadone at 6am and opening residential treatment for addicted moms. It was a struggle to provide even a small fraction of the psychiatric help that was needed. My colleagues were hardworking, clever and burned out. I trusted every last one of them.
So I was a little peeved this week when I heard a commentary on KQED, my local public radio. Jorge Wong, a Northern California public mental health administrator, gave a little rah-rah for California's mental health care at the expense of Arizona. He mentioned the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in his intro, to make his point sound like news. "...states like Arizona should realize the value of a Mental Health Services Act and adopt one," he said.
Duh. Admit it, Dr Wong, you know nothing of the battles over behavioral health in Arizona. Good people have worked long and hard to pass enabling legislation, attract federal money into their communities and offer the right services to the right people at the right time. It's always been an uphill battle.
California may be more cutting edge when it comes to social change, but now it is also faced with a $25 billion budget deficit. Voters passed the "treatment not jail" Proposition 36 in 2000 but prisons here remain full, and with woefully inadequate state money for the treatment end of Prop 36, it's only the law enforcement side of the equation that is fully functioning here.
Don't drag Representative Giffords into this - unless it is to show her support for behavioral health funding. She's pictured above with mental health providers in a photo dated November, 2010 at what looks like a ribbon cutting in Tucson. Godspeed.