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Calif. officials call for stable funding of behavioral health programs

The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury released a report detailing the history of two crisis response teams and their future funding

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Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services/Facebook

By Sage Alexander
Times-Standard

HUMBOLDT COUNTY, Calif. — There are two street outreach programs in Humboldt County that work with people with significant behavioral health issues. These teams are the subject of the latest Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury report released Tuesday. The report dove into the teams and found proactive outreach by the programs is essential, but one needs a more stable funding source.

Mobile Intervention and Services Team (MIST) and Crisis Alternative Response Eureka ( CARE ) are government programs that send professionals to help people with severe, often untreated mental health and substance abuse issues, some living homeless. The teams care for the most destitute people in Humboldt County, where about 20% live below the poverty line. The report found with a healthcare system in rough shape, particularly for the most marginalized people, the teams are an essential part of the safety net for helping the people they respond to. Largely educational, the jury emphasized the importance of preventative care from these teams before people reach crisis.

“It’s better for those folks because they don’t reach crisis. It’s better for the entire system because once they hit a crisis, they’re affecting hospitals and law enforcement and ambulances and fire departments, and that costs a heck of a lot more money,” said Richard Bergstresser, foreperson for the civil grand jury, reached by phone Wednesday.

The report concluded the programs need stable sources of funding to be successful.

The report details the back and forth over the years to pay for these teams. MIST, founded in 2015, has been funded by a number of sources such as Measure Z through the Eureka Police Department and a Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services grant. DHHS defunded its portion of the program in 2020, and the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors eliminated all financial support for MIST in 2023. The Community Safety Engagement Team program, from Eureka Police Department, contributes to MIST and is funded by the city of Eureka’s General Fund. Now, a new reimbursement-based federal Medi-Cal program is used to fund MIST.


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“The program that allows the Mobile Intervention and Services Team to bill Medi-Cal and to receive reimbursements for services provided ends March 31, 2027, with no guarantee of continued funding. Without this revenue stream, the MIST program may need to be reduced or eliminated,” the report said.

The grand jury recommended that the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors provide permanent funding for MIST to cover services that cannot be reimbursed by Medi-Cal.

Like MIST, CARE’s funding once came from Measure Z, a county tax that funds public safety, but now comes from the city of Eureka’s General Fund, which the report said appears to be stable.

“I think there’s a big difference in the MIST and the CARE programs as far as funding goes. CARE started off with grant funding, and now the city of Eureka is supporting it through its General Fund budget. They’ve made a commitment to this program as a city program,” said Bergstresser.

He said this is important because in between grants, there’s the understanding the program will continue.

The report also looked into how well the programs are working. EPD’s Community Safety Engagement Team and CARE have reported the programs are diverting the vast majority of calls to services instead of relying on involuntary holds at Sempervirens or emergency rooms, which have limited bed space. There’s some overlap between the two, but CARE reported about 83% of people in crisis were diverted from January to September 2023.


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The grand jury found obtaining similar data for MIST more difficult, focusing on a one-year grant with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office in 2022-23. This collaboration didn’t seem to be very effective, the report found.

“We infer that there is a dysfunctional work culture, where true collaboration between the two departments has not been a priority, resulting in this program not being cohesive,” the report said, based on interviews with people with direct knowledge of the situation. The report found there was a staffing shortage during this period and “considering the goals of the program, and the substantial state grant of $426,249, the services provided during this timeframe were underwhelming.”

The report called for the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to fund MIST if no other funding is secured, and for DHHS and the sheriff’s office to document calls for services. The report also recommended a study on the cost/benefit relationships for MIST.

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