Pictured: The Ventura County Behavioral Health Advisory Board meeting on Sept. 20, 2021. Screen capture of streaming video. 

by Kimberly Rivers

At the Sept. 20 meeting of the Ventura County Behavioral Health Advisory Board (BHAB), members asked for clarification about what happens once recommendations are made to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. 

During the meeting, Jerry Harris, chair emeritus, asked for clarity on the proper process for how recommendations made by the BHAB are brought before the elected supervisors for discussion and consideration. He pointed out that a majority of the reports and letters produced by the BHAB are “receive and file” agenda items before the supervisors and see little discussion. 

Cheryl Heitmann supported Harris’s request, saying the BHAB has many new members and that it would be helpful for everyone to understand the process and their responsibilities. She also inquired about the process for getting ideas of BHAB members on their meeting agendas. 

“We never hear about it again, it’s gone”

Dr. Sevet Johnson, director of Ventura County Behavioral Health, responded by pointing out that on June 22, 2021, two items from the BHAB were before the supervisors and Harris had up to 30 minutes to provide any information he liked to the supervisors. She also pointed out that the California Welfare and Institutions Code, which includes the mandates for BHAB, does not direct the supervisors on how to respond to any recommendations produced by the BHAB. 

She seemed to push back against Harris’ request, stating that the procedures are “defined and outlined in the county administrative manual” and she had “emailed” that previously to BHAB members, but could do it again. 

“I was not advised in advance that I’d be speaking on the LPS report,” Harris responded about the June 22 meeting, saying he did the best he could without notice.

The Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) report was submitted by the BHAB regarding areas where improvement is needed in mental health services in the county related to the mentally ill being taken into custody either by police or mental health professionals.

“I don’t believe that there is not an obligation of the Board of Supervisors to review and discuss and decide on the work and recommendations [of the BHAB]. Otherwise we are all spinning our wheels and don’t need to be here . . . I stand by my two requests.”

He emphasized that both items on the June 22 agenda for the supervisors were still “receive and file” and said he feels as though the BHAB is doing “very poorly” in seeing their recommendations get acted upon. 

“Most of our recommendations, when they get to the board for receive and file, it’s a bottomless pit, we never hear about it again, it’s gone,” said Harris. He asked that county staff give the BHAB a presentation “as soon as possible, hopefully at next month’s meeting.” 

He particularly wanted to know how “decisions are made about what is able to forward to the board,” and how the BHAB items are either placed on the consent agenda, which are not discussed, or as an agenda item to be discussed and “acted upon by the board.” 

Harris had concerns that the BHAB may be out of compliance with its state charter since in his opinion the supervisors rarely act on its recommendations, or even discuss them in open, public meetings. 

Needs assessment needed

BHAB members have been calling for a mental health needs assessment for several years in order for the department to identify gaps and then set goals for filling those service and treatment gaps in the county. Several BHAB members, as well as members of the public, have been pointing to the lack of available long-term beds for the severely mentally ill in the county. State reports say the county should have a minimum of about 400 beds. Today, most county residents who require long term care for mental illness are sent to out-of-county facilities with which the department contracts. 

Michael Rodriguez, BHAB chair, facilitated the formation of two workgroups aimed at finalizing a recommendation letter and a report on funding options for the needs assessment. 

Rodriguez said the more options the BHAB presents to the board that make the assessment “feasible, the greater our prospects of getting them to approve” and conduct the assessment.

New BHAB member Chris Tejada inquired about the process of reviewing contracts, one of the mandated tasks of the advisory board. He pointed to a recent contract involving mental health care at the jail, and that reviewing the contract after it’s approval seemed less effective than reviewing and commenting on contracts in “real time.” 

Johnson pointed out that this particular contract was handled by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and would not be under the purview of the Behavioral Health Department or the BHAB. 

All BHAB members are volunteers and are appointed by the supervisors. 

BHAB meets on the third Monday of each month, 1- 3:30 p.m. More information is online at vcbh.org/en/behavioral-health-advisory-board-meetings

The Sept. 20 meeting of the Ventura County Behavioral Health Advisory Board: