Los Angeles County voted last week to further consider the integration of its public-health and mental-health agencies with its Department of Health Services, which runs the county's hospitals and clinics. But mental-health advocates are concerned that mental-health treatment won't be a major priority within a consolidated department.
The proposal is expected to save the county a significant amount of money if approved. It also would remove barriers between medical providers in the Department of Health Services, clinicians in the Department of Mental Health and addiction professionals in the Department of Public Health.
“Modern healthcare requires the integration of physical health, mental health and substance-abuse treatment,” said DHS director Dr. Mitchell Katz, who would likely be tapped to lead the new organization, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The departments were once part of a single organization, but split apart over the past few decades, according to the Times. A DHS spokesman said it's too early to estimate how much the proposal would save the county.
Katz said combining the different types of care offers significant benefits to patients, who often present with symptoms that need to be treated by more than one of the three agencies.
Some expressed concern during a county board of supervisors meeting that affected patients weren't involved in the discussion. “Mental health, addiction medicine and population health … are as important to the overall health of the community as good physical health, and need to be equal partners in the dialogue,” said Richard Van Horn, president emeritus of Mental Health America of Los Angeles, an affiliate of the national treatment network, according to the Times.
A report on the proposed structure of the agency and the pros and cons of consolidation is due in March.