BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — "Not all homeless people are mentally ill, but many are," said Stacy Kuwahara, Director of Kern Behavioral Health & Recovery Services.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors approved 5-0 the proposed construction of two new psychiatric health facilities, an item expected to cost up to $25,480,000.
The two new facilities will increase the capacity of adult and minor inpatient psychiatric beds with up to 32 new beds.
In public comment, some community members spoke against the proposal. One individual said he believed this motion would eventually lead to tax increases for the community. He said the opportunity to increase services should first be offered to private industries and local hospitals.
Kuwahara pointed out that this project is not pulling from general funds and that Kern Behavioral is not a general fund department. She said the model allows for lower bed-day rates and for them to bill Medi-Cal for 50% of the cost.
One speaker of Bakersfield Behavioral Health said their collaboration with Good Samaritan and other private sectors can provide the needed services.
"We're not coming from the position that less mental health beds is better. We're coming from the position that, let's give us a chance to solve it through the private sector collaboration," the speaker said.
Kuwahara presented an update on efforts to combat homelessness in Kern County during the meeting Tuesday morning. During her presentation, Kuwahara included new regional outreach programs expanding involuntary treatment options.
One of the new outreach programs is the Kern Regional Outreach and Engagement Model (ROEM) program which began in February. It consists of a therapist, psychiatrist, and peers with shared experiences.
"We have two teams working in teams of two currently targeting 25 people in the Downtown and Oildale area who have been identified as being the most difficult to engage, the most vulnerable because of their mental health issues," Kuwahara said.
Kuwahara said that one of the biggest hurdles they see is the lack of trust. She said despite the unsafe living conditions, many of the mentally ill homeless they encounter do not wish to leave the street.
Even with two brand new low-barrier navigation centers offering services to our homeless population, Kawahara said the shelters may be too stimulating and these individuals may just be too ill to handle the environments.
"The burden of the homeless is on the hearts of the trainees and on the hearts of faculty," said Dr. Garth Olango, BHRS Medical Director. "So what we're doing now is training individuals who will stay in the community and make a difference."
This practice is what Dr. Olango calls street psychiatry, a new practice not founded in a residency program, but built out of a desire to help those who need the help.
"Bring that wonder and sense of hope to those who are the most hopeless," Olango said.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors also approved an item allowing the ROEM team to be trained to assess individuals' 5150 needs. A 5150 assessment concerns the involuntary treatment of a mentally disordered individual and placement in a treatment facility.