Opinion: Fixing Santa Clara County's mental health system would save lives and money

Opinion: Fixing Santa Clara County’s mental health system would save lives and money

Instead, people who could be successfully treated are languishing and dying on our streets because of political inaction. We can change that. We can reduce crime, save lives and save millions of tax dollars by finally taking seriously the untreated mental health issues that are driving up our population of homeless residents, contributing to rising crime rates and waste millions of taxpayer dollars.

Californians know that over the past few decades the state has largely dismantled the hospital system that cared for people with mental illnesses, like the Agnews facility here in San Jose. The closure of these facilities is correlated with rising rates of homelessness and incarceration. The state’s goal was to replace these facilities with community treatment, but that goal was never achieved, leaving thousands of people here in San Jose to suffer on our streets, in our jails, or desperately trying to make their way. care in the most expensive way possible – in our emergencies.

After decades of failing to fully address the crisis, Santa Clara County supervisors were finally forced to declare our county a mental health crisis. According to data from the California Board of State and Community Corrections, the rate of mental illness in Santa Clara County jails has increased more than 60 percent over the past decade. In 2019, 65% of people in our jails had an active mental health case, up from 5% in 2009. This data also shows that 47% of inmates in our county jails were regularly receiving psychoactive drugs, a dramatic increase from 16% per year. decade before.

Currently, approximately 40% of Santa Clara County’s homeless population suffers from serious mental health issues, while 35% self-report substance abuse. And on average, 8% of ER visits nationwide are for mental health or addiction diagnoses — visits that cost an average of $2,960 each in California.

Worse, Santa Clara County has only 13 inpatient treatment beds per 100,000 people. Experts recommend 50 beds per 100,000 people, which means our county needs nearly 1,000 more beds to meet the needs of our community. Studies show that providing more psychiatric inpatient beds and mental health services reduces crime rates, especially violent crime. We can save lives, reduce crime rates, reduce homelessness and save taxpayers money by requiring those who pose a danger to themselves or others to use these options once available.

It’s not that the county doesn’t have the money to expand treatment options. Santa Clara County has over $100 million in public mental health funds that they haven’t spent. The Board of Supervisors took $76 million in COVID-19 relief dollars and spent it on bonuses for county staff, many of whom earn $250,000 a year or more. They spent $4.5 million on valet parking for staff. The Supervisory Board even approved $1 million to write a book about their own accomplishments.

Obviously, it’s not about the money – it’s mismanagement and a lack of political will. Every dollar we wasted could have saved us seven dollars in criminal justice costs with proper investment in treatment programs.

Santa Clara County was among the last to officially adopt Laura’s Law last year, just before a state-mandated deadline, with Supervisor Cindy Chavez still expressing reservations about the vital law. The county has yet to fully implement this law, which requires treatment for people who pose a danger to themselves and others. And while counties like San Francisco are moving quickly to enact the new CARE Courts that help push homeless residents with mental health issues or drug and alcohol addictions into treatment, Santa Clara County is once again lagging behind. more feet.

It’s only hard for politicians who face political pressure to send staff bonuses or scrutiny from lawyers who think it’s somehow nice to let people get hurt and hurt others.

If we pay attention to the facts, not the politics as usual, we can reduce crime, homelessness and save taxpayers millions while saving lives. It’s just common sense.

Matt Mahan represents District 10 on the San Jose City Council and is running for mayor.

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