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County board tells city of its role in mental health
Panel proud of two programs offered in Ceres community
The county has a Psychiatric Health Facility at the former Memorial Hospital Ceres grounds. Here the Promotores program, primarily for Latino women and their families, operates at a cost of $53,000. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Ceres resident Jack Waldorf, chairman of the Stanislaus County Mental Health Board, came to the Ceres City Council meeting of Feb. 22 to explain how his 15-member panel makes life better for area residents dealing with mental issues.

Appointed by the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, the board makes recommendations to supervisors on behavioral health issues. One of the panel's jobs is to evaluate public mental health services to ensure that they are meeting the needs of the county. Site visits are part of that oversight.

Annie Henrich, in her third three-year term as a member, explained that the board advocates for the highest possible quality of life for individuals with mental illness. They try to make the community aware of mental health issues and eliminate stigmas of the mentally ill. The board also advocates for the removal of barriers to mental health services. It also provides oversight and works in partnership with the staff of the County Behavioral Health Department.

Waldorf explained there are six committees but focused on the Prevention and Early Intervention programs which are awarded to community agencies. It's their job to "reach out to the people who would never come to the Mental Health Department. Very often they're ethnic groups that are afraid to come, or underserved or marginalized populations." The board evaluates those programs and brings problems to the attention of the Mental Health Services director for rectification.

The county has two mental health problems in Ceres, explained Waldorf. The Promotores program, primarily for Latino women and their families, operates in Ceres at a cost of $53,000.

"One of the ladies that I talked to said if she had not found the Promotores program - she was so depressed - she would have committed suicide," said Waldorf. "But the support that she got from the other members of that program really made the difference for her."

The program is offered at the Behavioral Health & Recover Services at the former Memorial Hospital Ceres campus at 1907 Memorial Drive, Ceres.

Another program offered in Ceres is the School Consultation and Integration Project, also known as
Nurtured Heart. The $170,000 program is offered at La Rosa Elementary School.

"Instead of using negative re-enforcement, which is often the case in the school environment, it basically teaches children to look for their strengths and gives them a lot of positive reinforcement and it makes a huge difference in terms of school attendance and school success," said Waldorf.

"So we're very proud of those two programs and we think that what we've done in Ceres has really born fruit."

Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow, a member of the Mental Health Board, explained that the county is focusing on prevention, "trying to get to the root causes of problems instead of government always treating the symptoms and just putting Band-Aids on cancer."

He said much of the county's budget goes to fixing problems relating to addiction or mental health issues, including public safety and mental health costs. Withrow reminded the Ceres council that the county just opened - on the grounds of the former Ceres hospital - a 16-bed Psychiatric Health Facility, which is a grade down from the acute care facility on Claus Road. The county will be soon adding a Crisis Stabilization Unit.

"All things we're working on to trying to get people healthier mentally, physically, and keep them out of our system, which saves us," said Supervisor Withrow. "About 75 percent of our billion-dollar budget that the county has is spent on treating symptoms, things that could have been caught at an early age that would have kept them out of our system, whether it starts in the foster care system ... the juvenile detention system, the adult detention system, our DA gets involved with prosecuting, our public defender is defending them and our probation is chasing them after they get out of jail. All these things that if we can get to the root cause we can just save all of this money that we've spent constantly."

During the 2014-15 fiscal year, the county increased its Mental Department's budget by seven percent to $88.8 million, of which $77.7 million was used on mental health programs. Most of that money comes from state and federal governments. Total staffing for the department, including substance use treatment staff, is approximately 377 full-time staff. Behavioral Health and Recovery Services served 10,801 unique clients last fiscal year; this amount is up 5.7 percent from the prior fiscal year.

Each year the board produces an annual report to recap the board's activities.

Besides Withrow, Waldorf and Henrich, members of the Mental Health Board include Vice Chair Ritta Sudnikoff, and Kimberly Kennard, DSW, Vern Masse, Yvette McShan, Frank Ploof, Jerald Rhine, Jerold Rosenthal, Virginia Soloranzo, Sheila Kendall, Tony Flores and Elizabeth Ortiz.

Currently there is an opening in William O'Brien's Supervisorial District 1, which includes parts of northeast Modesto, as well as Oakdale, Waterford, Empire, Valley Home and Knights Ferry. Waldorf said Latino board members are especially needed since "we feel we're inadequately represented."