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County OKs boost for mental health

Health: Supervisors approve $12.7M to fill 146 full-time positions in prevention programs

Posted: March 9, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 9, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Santa Clarita Valley is poised to get three more mental-health professionals specializing in intervention programs following a decision at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Although it may not sound like much, local mental health workers say every bit of help counts.

Carole Lutness, a psychiatric social worker for the Department of Mental Health and certified drug and alcohol counselor, said she’s “delighted” about the newly created positions and calls the additional help a “gold mine.”

On Tuesday, the board approved a recommendation calling for at least $12.7 million to be set aside by the county’s mental-health department in order to fill 146 full-time positions and to fund training for others as part of the department’s prevention and early intervention plan.

The extra money set aside for intervention programs is to be distributed across 93 county mental-health agencies which, on average, means about 1.5 positions for each agency.

Kathleen Piche, spokeswoman for the county’s mental health department, said three of the 146 positions are already earmarked for Santa Clarita.

“Three positions sounds like a great gold mine,” Lutness said. “Having more staff is really going to help.”

Tuesday’s approval also authorizes the director of mental health to amend existing contracts the county holds with its mental health agencies in ways that would enable mental health clinicians and “direct-service personnel” to be trained for early intervention programs.

The $12.7 million — funding primarily from state and federal agencies — is a boost to the county’s budget woes.

The 4,500-square-foot Santa Clarita Valley Mental Health Center is on Cinema Drive, near Valencia Boulevard. It opened in November 2008.

Since then, on average, it serves between 135 and 187 clients a week.

With two rooms used for group therapy, as well as other spacious rooms, there is apparently enough space to accommodate three additional mental health workers.

“The external pressures people face today are immense,” Lutness explained. “We see more external pressure with things like loss of job, loss of home, loss of community standing and family. And, with this, we see so many people who have a sense of hopelessness. We see a lot of depression. So whatever we can do to help them not internalize that sense of despair, is a good thing.”


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