Sonoma County health program for the homeless under state scrutiny for low enrollment
A Sonoma County program aimed at providing wraparound health services to chronically homeless people is under scrutiny by the state after failing to meet enrollment requirements.
The county’s behavioral health division was among 25 agencies selected two years ago to take part in the Whole Person Care pilot program, a federally funded initiative focused on helping the most vulnerable. As part of the program, the county was awarded $8 million over five years - a grant it planned to match.
In October, though, the county was put under a “corrective action plan” by the state for not enrolling enough homeless people in the program, despite the county reporting roughly 3,000 homeless people living in the area. If the state determines the county is still falling short of its goals come June, it could be hit with more state intervention measures or lose all of its funding through a contract termination.
The county’s behavioral health division is one of two agencies on the state’s improvement plan.
Bill Carter, who heads the division, remained optimistic the county will meet its enrollment and community outreach goals.
“Our approach after receiving the (corrective action plan) was to speak to our community providers and people involved on the project, and we all agreed that we need to do work on the ground,” Carter said, who took over the behavioral health team in November after working as the mental health director in Napa County.
The goal of the pilot program is to provide under the management of one entity, such as the county, whole person care — medical, behavioral health and social services — to homeless or at-risk individuals with serious mental illnesses, substance abuse and chronic diseases. By making health care more efficient and accessible, state officials hope it will improve individuals’ health outcomes.
At the local level, the Whole Person Care program was slated to serve 3,040 people over five years and the county projected it would be able to provide services to an estimated 1,520 people by the end of December, according to documents.
However, the California Health and Human Services Agency in an October letter reported the county had served only 231 people nearly a year after receiving the grant.
Additionally, the state department found in its evaluation that as of last year few resources were going toward service programs, and instead going to high administrative costs.
Of the $4.1 million allocated for the program last year, $450,000 went to direct services for the homeless, while more than $3 million went to administrative costs, according to an October letter from the state.
As part of the improvement plan, the county has regularly met with representatives from the state’s Department of Health Care Services to set incremental goals designed to increase the number of homeless people enrolled in the program to avoid penalties.
Jenny Symons, who manages the pilot program for Sonoma County, said the county faced an uphill battle to adequately launch the program after budgeting challenges following the October 2017 fires. Both of those circumstances severely limited the department’s success from the start, she said.
She said the county is following the state’s plan and working on boosting enrollment.
“We are at where we need to be. We gave them (state officials) enrollment numbers, and we are currently at 847,” Symons said. “So far we are following the plan closely.”