opinion | Behind Newsom’s move on California’s chronic problem with the mentally ill

Dan Morin, former editorial page editor for Sacramento Bee, and author of “The Kamala Road: An American Life. “

In 1967, Ronald Reagan, the Republican governor of California, signed legislation that would have a far-reaching impact on people with severe mental illness. That was also the year Gavin Newsom was born; Now, 55 years later, he is the state’s Democratic governor, trying to deal with the ramifications of the law — for those who suffer from mental illness and for the communities in which they live.

The 1967 legislation was years in the making, a bipartisan pledge hailed by proponents as the Magna Carta of people in government hospitals. given to patients basic rightsHe quickly emptied those old institutions and became a model for states across the country.

With the hospital population declining, Reagan Cut government hospital funding But it also allocated more money to counties to provide care for newly released patients. Among the legislation’s flaws, it did not force counties to spend money to help former patients, who were not obligated to seek care. It was a recipe for social disaster.

Like nearly every California governor before him, Newsom has ambitions beyond Sacramento. Unlike his predecessors, he faces the daunting issue of untreated mental illness. His success or failure can determine his future.

The problem is huge: 160,000 homeless in California, a quarter of them severe mental illness. Tens of thousands of others with mental illness be Imprisoned in prisons and detention centers. Newsom understands why so little is addressing this issue.

“You were immediately criticized and protested, and the return on investment” — the return on investment — “is often very modest,” Newsom told me in a recent interview.

Nationally, his presidential ambitions are no secret. Newsom regularly trolls Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, including the challenge Him in a discussion about immigration and last week send Hurricane disaster assistance for the state, confirming DeSantis’ previous opposition to hurricane aid elsewhere.

Newsom tilted last month into his state, and what could be the governor has signed ancient lawsHe created what he calls the CARE Court, an acronym for Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment. It aims to force people with severe mental illness to get help.

People will come under CARE’s jurisdiction if they are diagnosed with a serious psychotic disorder, are unlikely to live without supervision and will deteriorate without help.

Family members, doctors, and the police can petition to place individuals in the CARE court system, and judges can refer defendants to the system if they are deemed ineligible for trial.

Once in the system, individuals will have access to treatment, medication and housing in the least restrictive conditions. They will also have lawyers and can refuse medications.

Assuming the law survives inevitable judicial challenges, seven counties will implement the system by next October, followed by another 51 counties in the state no later than December 1, 2024.

It will not be cheap. California will spend at least $37.7 million just to run CAIR courts, Senate staff analysis Offers. Newsom says 12,000 people could qualify. In addition, the California State Assembly of Districts Estimates Treatment and other services cost $40,000 per participant, for a total annual cost of $1.3 billion.

Reflecting voters’ impatience with tent cities across the state, Bill He received only two votes without votes in the 80-seat assembly; The 40-seat Senate approved it unanimously – more than Objections From civil liberties groups.

In writing about mental health care for decades, I’ve found that the topic is often personal to those trying to address it. So was the case with Bill Kerr Court. Lawmakers involved in its passage told of a brother-in-law, an aunt, or some other family member who had been devastated by mental illness.

I also have a story. My brother Frank, he crashed his car in 1969 when he was twenty-two. Due to a brain injury, he couldn’t take care of himself, and they tried like they did, our parents couldn’t handle it. He spent his days in California hospitals and nursing homes until his death in 2000.

Frank was not mentally ill. His brain was damaged. But he taught me that society has an obligation to take care of people who are unable to take care of themselves. He does receive care, but many others with brain disease and damage end up on the streets or worse, as we Californians witness every day.

In August, just days after making headlines by donating $100,000 to DeSantis’ Democratic rival, Charlie Crist, Newsom announced at a Fresno high school that the state would spend $4.7 billion on mental health programs for young people, including training 40,000 mental health workers.

He also did something he rarely does in public, telling the audience that his maternal grandfather had killed himself. He later told me that his mother never recovered. It’s one of the reasons he focused on mental illness throughout his years in public office.

Pessimists might note that if Newsom aspires to a higher position, he should be able to show that he tried to address California’s chronic problems with the homeless and the mentally ill. This may be true, but a political arithmetic that accomplishes something useful can also be called leadership.

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