Commission and McGeorge School of Law Announce Transformational Change Fellowship


The state’s mental health commission announces a new capacity building partnership designed to better respond to our state’s mental health crisis.

SACRAMENTO – The state’s mental health commission and a team of university and civic organizations on Monday announced a new partnership to help local governments build the capacity to better respond to the heartbreaking consequences of untreated mental health conditions.

The Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission is providing start-up funding to the public policy program at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law to support teams of managers and staff from county behavioral health departments as they transform services, improve results, and reduce racial and ethnic disparities.

The Transformational Change Fellowship will be led by McGeorge and Third Sector Capital Partners, a national nonprofit technical assistance organization. The partnership also includes the California Institute for Behavioral Health Solutions and Stanford University’s Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.

Mara Madrigal-Weiss, chairwoman of the Commission, said the overarching goal of the program is to support the ability of behavioral health leaders to achieve the goals of the Mental Health Services Act, including the promotion of prevention, early intervention, and innovation as essential strategies for improving performance and outcomes.

“The fellowship is the newest component of the Commission’s comprehensive strategy to catalyze the system-level changes required to eventually reduce homelessness, incarceration and hospitalizations among individuals who have not been well served by the mental health system,” Madrigal-Weiss said.

County agencies are on the front lines of providing Californians with mental health and substance abuse services, as well as physical health and social services. The Mental Health Services Act, passed by voters in 2004, provided dedicated funding and established a vision for improving access to comprehensive care that is recovery-oriented and addresses needs associated with housing, employment, education, and family connectedness, and avoids criminal justice involvement, suicide, and prolonged suffering.

“University of the Pacific is fully committed to supporting this impactful work, which is so vital to our communities,” said President Christopher Callahan. “Our professors have a tremendous depth of expertise that will enable them to help public servants develop the skills and tools they need to provide better outcomes for people from vulnerable populations, especially those who have historically been underserved.”

Caroline Whistler, CEO of Third Sector Capital Partners, said the Fellowship will fill a significant gap in the ability of county governments to meet the needs of clients and families and the expectations of communities. “Public agencies are confronted by increasingly complex problems, and they struggle to administer a plethora of complicated programs that are difficult to tailor to the needs of individuals,” Whistler said. “Our ambition is to help public servants manage within that complexity and build a broader understanding among state and local officials of ways to improve the design and implementation of programs and unlock their full capacity to effectively serve their communities.”

Preliminary plans call for cohorts of counties to develop the fundamentals of system-level changes and then receive technical support to incorporate those elements into their operations. Pilot counties will co-design and test the program to ensure it provides significant operational improvements in the short term and has the potential to produce durable improvements in outcomes over time.

The program will incorporate learnings from the Commission’s multicounty collaboratives that have been working to improve early intervention, crisis response, and comprehensive services for high-need individuals, including a youth-focused project supported by Stanford’s Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing. The program also will build upon system-change elements of McGeorge’s graduate program in public policy and administration and Third Sector’s technical assistance with local, state and federal agencies.

The program also seeks to engage state and local agencies leaders more broadly to guide the Fellowship in discerning and elevating system-level learnings that can be incorporated into state and local policies and activities intended to support the implementation of new programs and improve existing ones.

Jim Mayer, who teaches system change in the McGeorge public policy program, will serve as interim director of the fellowship.

“As a society, we have a moral imperative to better serve the most vulnerable members of our communities,” Mayer said. “The partners see the fellowship as a pragmatic way of helping dedicated public servants prevent and reduce suffering.”

The Commission’s one-time $5 million sponsorship will be used to develop and launch a project of high value that will become financially sustainable.

The Fellowship team will be working this spring with county and community leaders to develop the program, and will begin working with the first pilot cohort of participating counties in the fall of 2023.

The Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission was created by the Mental Health Services Act to provide leadership and support the transformation of California’s mental health system.

The University of the Pacific was the first chartered institution of higher education in California. The university’s McGeorge School of Law has been awarding juris doctorate degrees for nearly a century, with many of its alumni working in or closely with government agencies. McGeorge’s public policy program was launched in 2015 and has awarded more than 150 Master of Public Administration and Master of Public Policy degrees, with an emphasis on state and local government.

Third Sector is a nonprofit technical assistance organization with deep expertise in supporting public agencies in California and across the country to unlock possibility, confront inequity, and catalyze change to the benefit of the people and places its government partners serve. Third Sector provides support for public and nonprofit agencies to define desired outcomes, engage in data analysis, and make connections that will help government agencies provide the right services when it matters most.

The California Institute for Behavioral Health Solutions is a nonprofit consulting organization that delivers full-service clinical training and practice implementation, operational and management support, evaluation strategies, and other technical assistance to behavioral health payers, provider organizations, and large government entities.

Stanford’s Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing was established in 2015 to spearhead a new national vision for adolescent and young adult (12-25 years) wellness and mental health support that includes: early interventions, community education and advocacy, best practices for media and mental health and school mental health and suicide prevention.

Andrea Anderson
Chief of Communications
Mental Health Services Oversight & Accountability Commission
(916) 202-5035 |

Ashley Golledge
Director of Marketing and Communications
University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law
(916) 325-4687 |