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Mental Health Commission Has Successful Town Hall Meeting in Santa Clarita

On Thursday, January 24, 2019, the Los Angeles County (LAC) Mental Health Commission (MHC) held its monthly meeting as an open Town Hall in Santa Clarita at the College of the Canyons.

Several hundred community members were in attendance to take advantage of the added access.  They were there to bear witness, to hear from the Department of Mental Health and the MHC commissioners,  and to be heard themselves.  The public was invited to submit written comments as well as to address the commission in person.  Members of the public were allocated two minutes each to speak.  Although commission rules do not allow the commissioners to dialog with public speakers, they can direct the DMH to report back to them on issues or with information and can refer speakers to DMH personnel and resources.  Extra DMH staff were on hand to help address individual concerns. More people signed up to speak than could be accommodated in the nearly 90 minutes devoted to public comment. Those who were not able to speak or needed more than two minutes were encouraged to submit written comments.

Comments and testimony came from every sector of the mental illness community, including families, DMH clients, DMH employees, service provider workers and organizations, non-profits, and advocates. Many speakers shared heartbreaking (or heartwarming) personal stories about experiences of their own, of family members, or of clients.  Others talked about unmet needs in the community, concerns about system roadblocks, system problems and proposed fixes, getting the word out on lesser known programs/services,  or hopes for change, future programs, and services.

The County Director of DMH, Jonathan E. Sherin MD, ended the meeting with an overview of the 2019 department’s budget projections and related concerns for 2019.  Earlier DMH Assistant Director, Mimi Martinez McKay, addressed the meeting as well about further opportunities to interact with the department.  Service Area 2 representatives in attendance included DMH Service Area 2 Chief La Tina Jackson  the Service Area 2 Advisory Committee (SAAC 2) co-chairs: Evy Low, LCSW (Child Family Guidance Center) and Patricia Russell (NAMI family member, activist).  After the meeting, many members of the public lingered to talk with commissioners and department officials or to exchange views and contact information with each other.

This meeting launched a new commitment by MHC to hold quarterly meetings in different Service Planning Areas (SPA) across the county. The entire county is divided up into 12 SPA districts. Santa Clarita is in Service Area 2 which is one of the largest SPAs in the county, both in area and population.  The commissioners want far flung areas of the county to have greater access to the MHC, hope to increase their knowledge of local/regional concerns, and to better respond to local communities and their needs.

NAMI Glendale’s services bridge both parts of SPA 2 and SPA 4.  NAMI Glendale advocacy leader, John Hallowitz, along with other NAMI advocates from across the county, regularly attends MHC and SAAC meetings.  All SAAC and MHC meetings are Brown Act meetings, open to the public, and encouraging of public participation.   If you have personal questions or concerns about DMH; need help with or have input about DMH policies, programs and services; wish to learn about or give feedback on MHSA funding and priorities; wish to meet or hear from involved mental health community members; raise your level of local advocacy, or interact with DMH ,SPA, or MHC leaders, then SAAC and MHC meetings are the places to be.

Reported by John Hallowitz, Co-chair Advocacy Committee, NAMIGlendale


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