s
s
Sections
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
X

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

X

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Sonoma County appears once again to have ducked a devastating blow to local mental health programs.

During budget hearings last week, the Board of Supervisors agreed to tap various accounts for money to backfill most of a $19 million shortfall in the county’s Department of Health Services.

Some layoffs are still planned, but the accounting maneuvers should avert most of the funding cuts that threatened to shut down numerous local mental health and substance-abuse programs as soon as this summer.

That’s welcome news.

The cuts being contemplated would have undermined counseling, treatment, referral and housing programs managed by the county and dozens of nonprofit agencies — and these vital services already are spread much too thin.

But a crisis averted isn’t a problem solved.

Not in this instance anyway.

The bailout plan approved by the supervisors — the second since the beginning of the year — draws on about $18.4 million in one-time funding, spread over two fiscal years, to keep the programs afloat.

Then what?

A long-term funding plan is still needed.

So is a thorough accounting for how the Department of Health Services’ behavioral health division dug itself into such a deep financial hole.

The explanations to date from Health Services director Barbie Robinson and other county officials have been entirely inadequate.

In December, Robinson said a change in state funding formulas had created a strain on behavioral health programs, forcing cutbacks in more than 30 local programs and layoffs of temporary workers. She said the shortfall had been building for months. Yet it hadn’t been shared with the public or, apparently, her supervisors — the Board of Supervisors.

Then, at a board meeting in March, she blamed years of “poor fiscal forecasting, the lack of internal controls and operational inefficiencies” that resulted in perennial budget deficits for the behavioral health division, which manages mental health and substance-abuse programs.

Her comments came shortly after Michael Kennedy, the longtime chief of the behavioral health division, went on paid administrative leave for unspecified reasons.

Kennedy resigned more than six weeks ago, a fact that wasn’t disclosed until The Press Democrat filed a California Public Records Act request.

County officials still haven’t said whether Kennedy’s departure was related to the fiscal crisis, and a settlement reached prior to his exit prohibits either side from elaborating beyond saying he wasn’t guilty of any misconduct.

In response to queries from Staff Writer Martin Espinoza, Robinson wrote in an email that responsibility for the budget shortage was “shared” and “there will be no finger- pointing or placing blame on any one person or department or division.”

Mistakes were made. Just don’t ask by whom.

Should heads roll? We don’t know, and state law generally makes personnel matters confidential.

Unfortunately, we haven’t heard answers to questions that should be addressed publicly, including:

— For precisely how long was the county making inaccurate revenue projects?

— How much money was involved?

— Where were the internal controls?

— Were contracts and spending subject to oversight?

— Do similar problems exist in other divisions, or other county agencies?

Mental health officials have promised revisions, including an overhaul of the mental health division and establishment of a psychiatric health facility, which would qualify the county for additional Medi-Cal funding. They also plan to pursue a ballot measure in 2020 to boost funding for mental health, substance abuse and homeless services.

To win voter approval, the county will need to restore the public’s trust in its management of mental health programs. That should start with more transparency and an independent audit of the behavioral health division.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com

Show Comment