California Leaders Join Behavioral Health Task Force

California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Mark Ghaly addresses the press with Gov. Gavin Newsom last month. Photo courtesy The Brownsville Herald

As California works to transform its Medicaid program, a new statewide task force will tackle how to improve the state’s mental health and drug abuse services for its most vulnerable residents.

Last week, California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly announced the composition of the Behavioral Health Task Force, which includes high-level leadership from state agencies, advocates and providers. 

“More and more Californians now have health coverage thanks to Medi-Cal, Covered California and private coverage, but too many of our neighbors still struggle to access the timely mental health and substance use disorder treatment that they need,” Ghaly said in a press release. “This Task Force will work toward a behavioral health system that provides timely access to high-quality care for all Californians.”

The new body includes several of the state’s influential leaders on child and family issues, including: 

  • California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris, a national leader in the study of adverse childhood experiences
  • Tom Insel, California’s new “mental health czar” 
  • Kim Johnson, director of the Department of Social Services 
  • Cathy Senderling, deputy executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California 
  • Christine Stoner-Merz, CEO of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services 
  • Kim Lewis, managing attorney for the National Health Law Program who was one of the lead litigators on Katie A., a class action lawsuit about mental health services for youth in or at risk of entering foster care
  • Lishaun Francis, associate director for health collaborations with Children Now

When he unveiled his first budget proposal of the year in January, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said that he would focus on improving the state’s Medi-Cal program. As part of a reform initiative he dubbed Medi-Cal Healthier California for All, Newsom is hoping to provide more coordinated and holistic health care for California’s most vulnerable residents, including chronically homeless individuals.

As part of a multi-year effort, California’s governor is setting aside $695 million in 2020-21 for the effort. As part of his budget announcement in January, Newsom also promised the formation of the Behavioral Health Task Force, which will grapple with a plan to extend a pair of federal Medicaid waivers.

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