California on the Eve of Mental Health Reform

By Tracy L. Finlayson and the Nicholas C. Petris Center | Published November 2007 by the Petris Center | Link to Full Report

This report summarizes baseline information derived from a survey of county mental health directors about key organizational and budgetary characteristics in California’s county mental health departments. These findings are intended to provide stakeholders, policymakers, researchers and others with a snapshot of county and system characteristics prior to the implementation of the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) of 2004, which was created by the passage of Proposition 63. Much of the report’s findings, on topics such as financing, organizational structure, staffing patterns, information technology and mental health boards, cannot be found elsewhere. Key findings indicate that California’s counties, while highly diverse, share some common features and strengths. These include: 1) high participation in innovative demonstration programs, 2) minimal spending on institutional care, 3) low administrative overhead, and 4) provision of care in languages beyond the state requirements. This report can provide information on where counties are beginning their transformation process. While each county is different, the similarities between counties may be useful in providing lessons for improving the system as a whole.