San Diego County officials Wednesday previewed what the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Act — a policy framework to assist people living with untreated mental health and substance abuse challenges — will look like when it goes into effect in the county.
The act, also known as the CARE Act, is being piloted in seven California counties, and goes into effect Sunday in San Diego County.
“I’m excited for our county to be a leader in launching this new program,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas. “We want to make sure that the public is aware how this latest tool may help them. If our community doesn’t know how to access this latest resource, they can’t leverage it.”
A petition for a person with mental health disorders can be submitted by a family member, someone who resides with the person, social services, first responders, community organizations or law enforcement. A judge will then decide whether that person is eligible for treatment — with input from the county’s Behavioral Health Services. If so, a CARE plan will be developed.
While some people experiencing homelessness may meet the state law’s impairment definitions, it is not a homeless housing program.
The county expects to spend between $15 million and $20 million the first year for about 1,000 people to be considered. About a quarter of the people engaged are estimated to qualify and transition to confirmed cases, with others guided toward previously existing behavioral health programs, a county statement read.
“County Behavioral Health Services has assembled a team to support the launch of the CARE Act program with our partners,” said Dr. Luke Bergmann, director of county BHS. “Collectively, we will improve the lives of eligible people in our community, while also offering important existing resources and help to others.”
The plan, while nominally voluntary, could include behavioral health treatment, stabilization medication and a housing plan.
However, if someone refuses treatment, a judge could also recommend they be placed into what would in essence be a conservatorship, which would force them to receive treatment.
People who successfully complete the program and are graduated by the court will remain eligible for ongoing treatment and supportive services to support long term recovery.
“The San Diego Superior Court is well prepared to begin reviewing petitions and working with the county, individuals and their counsel on both eligibility and the best plan going forward for those who take part in CARE Act proceedings,” said Superior Court Judge Kimberlee Lagotta.
Plans would be managed by a community-based care team to “ensure program participants avail themselves of needed mental health care, supportive services, medication and housing,” a statement from the state read. In addition to this team, individuals in CARE would have a public defender and care manager to help them make self-directed care decisions.
According to county officials, participation in the program can be no longer than one year unless extended due to individual circumstances — up to a total of two years — and includes periodic hearings to report on progress.
The program is offered at no cost to its participants.
Local governments that do not carry out their specified duties under court-ordered Care Plans could be sanctioned by courts or have an agent appointed to ensure services are provided.
California’s other participating CARE Act pilot Counties are Glenn, Orange, Riverside, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and the city and county of San Francisco. Los Angeles County starts Dec. 1 with the rest of the state required to begin next year.
City News Service contributed to this article.