Wednesday, March 8, 2017

[Santa Cruz County] Mental Health Advisory Board gets a makeover

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY — Following a slew of harsh criticism in two consecutive Grand Jury reports, the Mental Health Advisory Board (MHAB) has reported massive internal reorganization and improvement.
Calling the report a catalyst and a scare, MHAB Chairperson Kate Avraham said they were hindered by a lack of training and support. Now she said the board has made a 180-degree turn.
"In the past, we were not accommodating to the public, it was not functioning as a vital board and certainly not functioning as the law prescribed," Avraham said. "It's like a whole new board and a whole new story." 
Essentially, she said they worked off the recommendations in the report like a checklist. Avraham is the second person to lead as chairperson following the report.
In the 2015-2016 report, the Grand Jury found lapses in communication with the Board of Supervisors, vacancies that prevented MHAB from operating effectively, failing to meet requirements of the Mental Health Services Act, and failing to investigate or act on issues raised during the meetings, among other things. The Board of Supervisors was also reprimanded in the report for "providing little or no direction, goals, objectives and no comprehensive training on how to be an effective advisory board."
Since then Supervisor Greg Caput began serving as their advisor, a training was held, and a process was put in place to conduct meetings according to County Code Chapter 2.104. 
"We are involved in the community with site visits, going to Supervisor meetings, really being visible and interacting, and that is only going to increase," Avraham said. "Now that we have the training and we know what we are empowered to do, I think we are becoming a more up-to-date, more visible, more proactive board."
This progress has followed a year of hard work, according to Avraham, and has seen many of the issues resolved. Now they are looking to the future. 
"Everything has been revitalized and it took a lot of people to help with that," Avraham said. "We are making contact with the public to educate them so they know we are there and we are trying to normalize and give a different voice to de-stigmatizing mental illness."
Part of that begins with having a full board for the first time in many years, Avraham said, and that number will get larger under a change currently being considered that would allow for 15 members instead of 11. 
"We are functioning as we should, gradually we will get more effective in all the areas," Avraham said. "We got to keep people passionate and fresh."
February 20, 2017
By Bek Sebedra

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