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Mental Health System in State

April 17, 1985

Paul Jacobs and The Times should be commended for their work on the three-part series (March 18-20) on the mental health system in California.

The depth of the articles, along with their Page 1 prominence, enabled the readers to become familiar with many of the crucial issues affecting the care and treatment of California's mentally ill.

Some points raised in the second and third articles demand clarification.

First, the opening paragraph in the third article is potentially misleading: "Even if Gov. George Deukmejian gets the substantial boost in funding for the mentally ill he has called for this year, state support for mental health will be less than it was before he took office."

When the governor took office, the general fund budget (1982-83) for local mental health was $332.2 million. The proposed 1985-86 budget is $438 million. As you can see, this represents a $106 million or a 33% increase.

Many critics of the mental health system argue major cities in California, which frequently have the greatest number of patients, offer fewer services than less congested or more rural areas. It should be noted that during the current budget year of fiscal year 1984-85, the major metropolitan counties in California receive the highest amounts of state funding; Los Angeles, $105 million; Orange, $18 million; San Diego, $24 million. These amounts refer to state dollars only , and are matched by 10% by each county.

As director of the California Department of Mental Health, I recognize that simply spending money on mental health is not a complete answer to better treatment for patients. The Administration of Gov. Deukmejian is committed to better serving the mentally ill by allowing counties greater flexibility and autonomy from state government in planning and implementing mental health programs to suit the needs of patients in their communities.

I am convinced this Administration is helping to take California's mental health system in the proper direction for the 1980s and beyond.

By increasing funding for community mental health systems and giving local jurisdictions the flexibility to run programs by local experts, the governor's mental health initiative is bringing accountability to the local level.

D. MICHAEL O'CONNOR MD

Sacramento

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