County seeks new federal funding for mental health crisis

It's not only a homeless crisis - it's a growing crisis of the mentally ill.

Appearing on Eyewitness Newsmakers, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and Dr. Jonathan Sherin, director of the LA County Department of Mental Health, talked about new solutions.

They discussed a new law that could get more medical help for the gravely disabled and another move to expand the number of mental health beds. The county has half as many as it should have.

The county Board of Supervisors approved Barger's plan, asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to seek a federal waiver, allowing Medicaid money to be used for some mental illness hospitalizations.

"The fact the federal government is now recognizing mental health as part of Medicaid stemmed from the opioid crisis," said Barger. "I'll take it any way we can get it."

"We know mental illness drives behavior," Sherin said. "It creates a public safety risk."

He talked about creating treatment options with a goal of community-based care.

The county plans to tear down Men's Central Jail and replace it with a treatment facility.

In Willowbrook, the old King Drew Medical Center is converting into MLK Behavioral Health Center for inpatient and outpatient treatment. It could be a model for many aspects of the jail replacement.

For those on the streets, the county has tripled mental evaluation teams, with more on the way.
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