Over the last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, behavioral health specialists in Monterey County have noticed an increase in the number of children and teens suffering from isolation and stress, says director Katy Eckert . The transition to the classroom was particularly difficult for some. It’s anecdotal — exact numbers aren’t yet available — but Eckert says they’re certain the pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many youths and young adults.
This increase in the need for services coincides with a societal shift in the approach to mental health services for young people.
“There’s a shift in how our world understands mental health needs and understands that it’s really important to intervene early with our young people to help them grow into healthy adults,” Eckert says.
In a combination of fortuitous timing and more available funding for youth mental health care, Monterey County is poised to meet increased needs with the construction of a new Alisal Integrated Health Center in East Salinas on North Sanborn Road and newly available funding for the addition of treatment beds for people in short and long term crisis.
The $23.7 million health center approved by the board of supervisors in 2021 has been in the works for six years, with a first inauguration on Thursday, March 10. The city of Salinas agreed to a land swap to make the facility possible. It received $16.25 million from the county for construction, as well as funding from the Central California Alliance for Health and the California Mental Health Services Act, approved by voters in 2004.
In addition to medical treatment, the center will bring mental health services to East Salinas in English and Spanish. Services provided will include screening and assessment, counselling, case management, support groups, medication and residential treatment, among others. The goal, Eckert says, is to treat “the whole child” with the idea of ”tightening our arms around these children and their families to live healthy lives.”
Meanwhile, the county recently received a $1.8 million grant from the California Health Facilities Financing Authority. The largest portion, nearly $1.1 million, is for the addition of four crisis stabilization beds for youth and four residential treatment beds for children and youth under the age of 18 years, as part of the renovation of an existing residential establishment in Salinas. (The remainder, $779,000, is for crisis stabilization treatment.) The idea is a smooth transition from short-term stabilization for people in crisis.
Emphasis will be placed on those receiving Medi-Cal or who are uninsured or undocumented residents, with a “no rejection” and “no ejection” policy. The hope is to avoid police intervention, hospitalizations or costly transfers to out-of-county facilities, according to a report Eckert provided to the county’s Behavioral Health Commission in February.
Eckert calls the $1.8 million a huge chunk of what’s needed to provide needed crisis beds, but adds the county will need to find additional capital funding. Ongoing costs of running a contractor will also need to be added to the behavioral health budget.