State and Counties Begin Implementing CARE Court

Special to the Vanguard

Sacramento, CA – Despite concerns from experts and activists, California is moving forward with CARE Court, as means to deliver mental health and substance use disorder services to the most severely impaired Californians who too often suffer in homelessness or incarceration without treatment.

Governor Gavin Newsom joined local and state leaders for a convening of the first cohort of counties who will implement the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act, a bill authored by Senator Thomas Umberg (D-Santa Ana) and Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) and sponsored by Governor Newsom.

Governor Newsom joined the San Diego gathering virtually and welcomed officials from the first cohort including county administrators and elected officials, leaders from behavioral health, public health, housing, social services and judges from each jurisdiction.

“CARE Court means new hope for thousands of Californians with untreated mental health and substance abuse issues,” said Governor Newsom. “Today, our work begins to turn promise into practice. While we watch other places in America move swiftly towards more involuntary hospitalization, in California, we’re doing it the right way – community based care, a focus on housing, and accountability for everyone involved.”

The first cohort of counties include Glenn, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and the City and County of San Francisco which are working to launch the CARE Act by October 2023. The convening of the counties yesterday marked an important step in the efforts by the Administration to support the successful implementation of the CARE Act and to ensure the delivery of a responsive set of services and supports for the individuals served.  A convening of community stakeholders is being planned for early 2023.

The event was hosted by the California Health and Human Services Agency (CalHHS) along with the Department of Health Care Services and the Judicial Council of California.,

“We are committed to developing a process that is person-centered and addresses the needs of those we are serving, instead of the bureaucratic structures of government,” CalHHS Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly reminded the counties. “We will continue to work collaboratively, with a focus on equity, to support the successful implementation of the CARE Act.  The hard work of implementation begins now, and I look forward to rolling up our sleeves with you to continue to build on our partnership as we work together to deliver on the promises at the heart of the CARE Act.”

Yesterday’s convening allowed for the counties to hear from state officials, to share their planning efforts to date, and to work with their local counterparts to identify and discuss opportunities and challenges they expect to face during implementation. The convening was the first of future events designed to bring counties together so they can learn from each other and share feedback and best practices with the state on implementation. Counties also heard from a family member of a person with a serious mental illness and more voices will be convened at the soon-to-be-launched stakeholder working group.

“Cities and counties are truly on the frontlines of the state’s behavioral health crisis, and the officials who gathered yesterday are eager to get to work on this challenge,” said San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. “I’m proud San Diego is in the inaugural group that will be implementing CARE Court, and have every confidence that the folks who convened yesterday have the ability and experience to make this program work to help Californians who are struggling with mental health.”

“I’m incredibly grateful to everyone participating in this initial effort to implement the CARE Act in California,” said Senator Umberg. “This is not an individual effort, but a collective approach that includes local leaders, health care professionals, county administrators, and especially the families in need of help for their loved ones. We are turning this effort over to the implementers – the people on the ground who will do the hard work to make this framework a reality.”

“I want to commend this initial group of counties for their willingness to partner and take bold new steps forward to address this challenge, because we know that the status quo has not  worked and it’s time to try something dramatically new.” Said Senator Eggman “I want to thank the Governor and my colleagues in the Legislature for helping to create a new onramp into a system that we know is fragmented at best. Through this effort, we will create services that are streamlined and will provide greater accountability across the board.”

“CARE will provide more tools for families to get timely and robust treatment and support services for those living with the most serious mental health challenges,” said Anita Fisher, Advocate and former Education Director at NAMI-San Diego. “I work with families all of the time who have to wait until their loved one is incarcerated or institutionalized to get the help they need. The CARE Act has the power to change that for those who need help the most.”

CalHHS will establish a CARE Act Working Group in early 2023 and will continue its ongoing engagement with representatives from a wide variety of networks, including peers, disability rights organizations, families, racial equity advocates, housing and homelessness stakeholders, behavioral health providers, associations, and more.

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