Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Silicone agent | Medi-Cal is expanding behavioral health services

By Vaseline May27,2024
Silicone agent |  Medi-Cal is expanding behavioral health services

California is leading the way in improving access to mental health and substance abuse care for Medi-Cal patients.

During a May 16 media briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services, a panel of experts discussed how Medi-Cal helps Californians receive necessary treatment for mental and substance use disorders, promoting healthier living overall.


  • Autumn Boylan, Deputy Director, Office of Strategic Partnerships, California Department of Health Care Services
  • Paula Wilhelm, Interim Deputy Director, Behavioral Health, California Department of Health Care Services
  • Jennifer Oliphant, LCSW, Chekws: Hope for Tomorrow Program Director at Two Feathers Native American Family Services
  • Tricia Nguyen, CEO, Southland Integrated Services (formerly Vietnamese Community of Orange County)

What is behavioral health?

Behavioral health is the mental health and substance use disorders, as well as the impact on physical health of stress.

Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, provides coverage to one-third of Californians, which amounts to 15 million people. To make access to care easier, Medi-Cal partners with community organizations to offer services such as mental health and substance use screenings, outpatient therapy and inpatient treatment. Members can access these services by calling their local county’s 24-hour access line.

Paula Wilhelm noted, “One thing we continue to hear from our MediCal members is that the complexity of navigating the health care system can keep people from accessing care.”

To address this, DHCS is transforming Medi-Cal with initiatives such as the Mental Health Services Act, which funds treatment for substance abuse disorders and serious mental illnesses. In addition, they are expanding early intervention and housing supports and implementing the No Wrong Door policy to ensure treatment is accessible.

Tackling young people’s mental health

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the youth mental health crisis is the most colossal public health problem today. Medi-Cal is reforming to achieve this goal through the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative, a $4.7 billion investment under Governor Newsom’s Master Plan for Kids’ Mental Health.

“For more than a decade, outcomes for young people have been worsening,” says Autumn Boylan. “Half of all lifetime cases of diagnosable mental illness occur in young people by age 14, and 75 percent have onset by age 24.” In California, more than a quarter of a million children suffer from severe depression, two-thirds of whom receive no treatment.

To combat this crisis, mental health care is being expanded to schools so that children can be reached directly. They mainly target young people of color, from low-income households, LGBTQ+, those involved in the justice system and people dealing with housing problems.

Growing coverage of behavioral health care

A Medi-Cal contract allowed Chekws to expand significantly, now one of the larger mental health and substance abuse providers in Humboldt County. Jennifer Oliphant said they have built “intensive and rehabilitative care, workforce training at local universities, cultural workshops, peer counseling and equine therapy.”

In 2022, Two Feathers also launched a youth leadership development program. This initiative engages teens in adult-led groups to prepare them for work, sharpen their social and emotional skills, participate in college tours, and learn about local culture.

Jennifer Oliphant says, “A few years ago, a young person came in who was struggling with substance use and was unsure whether to seek help. They joined our youth leadership program and connected with a peer group, and then were motivated to connect with our advisors… they have been with us for almost two years and the change has been remarkable.”

Drugs have also taken Humboldt County’s youth by storm. They have incorporated substance abuse therapy into mental health care to help break down the barriers.

“Expanded Medi-Cal has given us a sustainable, growing behavioral health program with a consistent clinical schedule, whereas previously we had temporary grants here and there,” she added.

Tricia Nguyen shared, “When I first started in 2008, we didn’t have a mental health program at all, but I saw such a need for one here.” Originally founded in 1979 as a resettlement agency for Vietnam War refugees, the clinic is now in the largest Vietnamese enclave outside Vietnam, home to more than 209,000 Vietnamese, making up more than 6% of the area’s population, according to the US Census.

Nguyen explained the mental health gap between generations: “the older generation that has suffered so much and is passing on to the children the guilt of having to be a traditionally successful doctor, lawyer, engineer… so we have isolation among seniors and anxiety, depression and suicide among stressed youth.”

CDC reported in 2020 that suicide was the leading cause of death for AAPI Americans ages 10 to 19 and the second leading cause of death for people ages 20 to 34.

Nguyen emphasized the breadth of services at Southland Integrated Services. Featuring wellness classes for seniors, counseling for veterans, psychiatric rehabilitation and digital literacy workshops, the “Medi-Cal grants allowed us to host six-week wellness workshops for youth.” These workshops come equipped with lessons on arts and crafts, healthy sleeping and eating, and teaching proper nettiequte.

She elaborated on the cultural challenges, saying how “parents feel like they have sacrificed everything for the children’s success, while the children feel like the parents don’t care about their well-being.” As a society we are open about having diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes, but talking about mental health is still taboo.

“Parents are now coming in and asking for a therapist or screening for their child. It is difficult to break taboos around mental health and substance abuse, but through these programs we are doing it.”

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