The Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission took a big step last month toward a journey that will help guide its path for the next several years with the ultimate goal of transforming the mental health system in California.
The meeting in Los Angeles September 26, 2018 brought together Commissioners, former commissioners, consumers, families, members of the public, stakeholders, educators, health care professionals, and other individuals interested in helping shape the Commission’s vision and goals. The regular State Commission meeting followed the next day.
“This is going to be a really important next two days in terms of the work of the Commission,” said Commission Chair John Boyd. “Today, we are opening our strategic planning process and we’re going to have a lot of open dialogue about where we are and where we are not. The work we have to do today couldn’t be more important. So I’m very excited about the focus of today. We get to decide what our strategy is for the next two to three years to make sure that California is an incredible steward of this incredible responsibility we have.”
Commission Executive Director Toby Ewing explained that the strategic planning process began nearly 18 months ago. “We wanted to step back and revisit the foundation that really should guide and shape the work that you (commissioners) do,” he said. “In addition to having new commissioners, it’s also new opportunities, new obligations. This really is an opportunity to step back and to hear from you about where we are in terms of the Commission developmentally and where we need to be.”
The strategic planning process spearheaded by Applied Survey Research (ASR) will take about a year to complete. It will help ensure that the Commission’s work is aligned with its mission and vision. The Commission chose ASR because of its renowned work around community engagement for more than 35 years, and its strong history of working with vulnerable populations such as young children, seniors, low-income families, at-risk youth, veterans, and persons experiencing homelessness.
“We are in pursuit today of wellbeing for every resident of the state of California,” said ASR President Susan Brutschy. “This is a really noble undertaking and we’re so excited to have the opportunity to partner with you. We strive to use this process as a way for there to be a commonality to talk about how you know that the difference you make is the one that you seek. How you know you’re being successful and how you know you’re living up to the spirit of the Act.”
Commissioner Lynne Ashbeck and Vice-Chair Khatera Aslami-Tamplen helped coordinate the planning process. The session opened with statements by each Commissioner about their history and their passion and goals for the Commission. Later, the session involved facilitated roundtable discussions with everyone in the room. Attendees sought to answer the questions: Given your broad view of mental health around the state of California, what is the unique role of the Commission in helping meet community mental health needs? And, how would you know if MHSOAC is successful in fulfilling this role?
Before the strategic planning session, Aslami-Tamplen, outlined other future opportunities to take part in the process. “As you know, everyone cannot be here today and not everything will happen today,” she said. “Our consultants are here to talk with people confidentially and independently and to support us through this process.”
Aslami-Tamplen pointed to several community engagement forums and surveys that will be conducted as part of the process. “We’re going to do our very best to ensure that everyone who wants to be involved can be involved and has access to our strategic planning process.”
Lively discussions took place throughout the room with facilitators asking questions of the participants. Each table included two commissioners along with the general public.
“I thought it was very good,” said Carmen Diaz, a former commissioner, “It’s good that the Commission is getting input from the community because I think that (input) may have been lacking for a while. I think one of the main reasons for having the session is to make sure that the community is involved. I think that’s a good thing.”
Another participant, Ish Bhalla, a psychiatrist from Cedars-Sinai National Clinician Scholars Program, offered his opinion about the process.
“I’m here as a psychiatrist so I see a lot of the patients that are touched by the Mental Health Services Act,” he said. “My favorite part of the session was the interaction at the end, the group dynamics and seeing all the different stakeholders and what their opinions were. It’s rare that we get the chance to share ideas and opinions of what we think the Act is supposed to be and everyone has a different background and brings something different to the table and it was nice to come up with solutions together.”
It’s a process and it’s a big undertaking, but with things like today, I think it’s pushing us in the right direction, Bhalla added.
Noah Hampton-Asmus, of Access California, agreed.
“I thought that the OAC contracted with the appropriate organization to include stakeholder participation,” he said. “The facilitated group conversations were an excellent opportunity to speak with commissioners and OAC staff. This was a unique opportunity that brought them out from behind the microphones and interact and engage in active listening that feels lost in three-minute personal statements during meetings.”
Hampton-Asmus said he would like to see much more community engagement with commissioners and staff.
The African Coalition’s Senait Admassu said she wanted to learn about and address health disparities and service gaps in the communities she serves. “I learned about who the commissioners are and heard their perspectives on current policies and practicalities that are crucial to the underserved communities.”
The group discussion was great, she continued. “I was able to address and share what is needed in our ethnic communities. We want the Commission to know that it is important to create a way to be inclusive and connect directly with the communities to learn about unmet needs.”
The next strategic planning session is scheduled for November 15, 2018 in Riverside, California.