Navigating the labyrinth of mental health services providers can be frustrating, if not impossible, for those seeking help. To try to bridge that gap, Long Beach, which is currently limited by state laws on what services it can provide, could look to boost coordination between providers, according to a new report.
The report, “Developing a Robust Mental Health System in Long Beach,” was authorized by the City Council in November 2021, when it asked the city to look at ways of improving mental health service capacity in Long Beach.
It details the challenges of navigating the current system, which is full of acronyms for various county departments and providers as well as limitations depending on age, gender and whether or not a person has insurance.
The roadblocks and gaps within the system exist as the prevalence of mental health conditions continues to increase in the region. A 2018 survey found that 42% of adults reported having anxiety or depression, according to the report.
A survey of Long Beach residents found that nearly 16% of 18-year-olds reported not having good mental health for 14 days or more, with the highest rates being in Central Long Beach.
However, actually bringing mental health services under the roof of the city’s Health Department would be costly and could require legislative changes, which is why the city could instead focus on being a better facilitator that connects people with other service providers, according to the report.
The City Council is expected to discuss the report Tuesday night, but Kelly Colopy, the director of Health and Human Services, said that it’s not likely that the city will pursue creating its own mental health system or even become a vendor that works through the county’s Department of Mental Health.
“To open a system would be quite costly for the city to recreate what the county already has,” Colopy said.
It could also require a change to state law, which currently directs state funding to counties, which then pass it along to service providers like nonprofits that city Health Department employees try to connect people with when they’re seeking help.
Becoming a vendor is possible, but it would require the city to apply for direct Medi-Cal funding to offer some services directly, and it would likely require general fund dollars to be put up as a match to receive that funding.
The department is nearly entirely grant-funded, and just 6% ($11.5 million) of its $182.3 million budget this year came from the general fund.
“It would be far more than that for us to run our own system going forward,” Colopy said.
Colopy said the city wants to focus instead on creating connections between people and providers and also improve how local providers are able to access funding, something that is difficult and can be confusing, the report said.
“Our goal was to leverage what exists,” Colopy said, adding that the city also would like to find a way to access additional funding to boost its abilities. “The thing that showed up is that there is no coordination at the LA County level for the city of Long Beach.”
Providing technical assistance for those providers interested in applying for funding or grants is among the short-term solutions the report lists along with developing a decision tree for connecting people to services, hiring more people with lived experiences and partnering with Chance the Rapper’s “My State of Mind” project to be the West Coast partner city.
The rapper’s nonprofit “SocialWorks” runs the My State of Mind project in Cook County, Illinois. One of the program’s initiatives is a guidebook to help connect people to mental health services near the rapper’s hometown of Chicago.
Colopy said that making it easier to access mental health is almost as important as increasing the amount of services that are available for people who need it.
“People speak about increasing access to mental health, you think you just need to open more services, but there’s so much more involved,” she said. “The reason why we have so many folks that don’t have treatment is trying to work your way through what’s possible, if you don’t have someone else to help, can be impossible.”