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Monday, May 18, 2009, 12:58 pm

Mental Health Coalition of Sonoma County prepares launch

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    Ashley Furness headerAfter five years in development under St. Joseph Health System’s wing, the Mental Health Coalition of Sonoma County will officially become its own entity this summer, and officials have already garnered support from nearly every big health care name in the county.

    The group aims to create a centralized mental health system and foster collaboration to introduce new programs.

    With the state trimming Medi-Cal funding for mental health this summer and the potential for even more cuts with the May 19 special election, coordination among those still providing services for the mentally ill will become all the more paramount.

    Mental Health Coalition lead and St. Joe coordinator Stella Rijeka said even now few providers have an abundance of such services, but all together the county could have a complete system. Beginning July 1, the coalition will officially form its own nonprofit and unite the region’s resources by creating a community consciousness of what is available and rallying partners to launch initiatives to fill the unmet gaps.

    “There is a continuum of how people work together and it starts with networking and sharing information. Then that leads to cooperating and sharing information, then working together, then full collaboration where everyone has one common vision and we are all putting resources in the middle for that common vision. The goal is to break us out of functioning in our own individual silos,” Ms. Rijeka said.

    So far, the group has assessed what resources already exist and established financial partners willing to commit about $75,000 to $100,000 annually to keep the coalition going. St. Joseph, which will still be a financial partner, provided $500,000 for the program from its Community Benefit and Quality of Life fund over the course of five years but will stop that funding beginning June 30.

    The Sonoma County Health & Human Services Department, Petaluma Health Care District, Kaiser Permanente, the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County and United Way are among those that agreed to commit funding after that point.

    As a product of the initial five years of research, the coalition completed the formation of two resources meant to facilitate the community collaboration. One is a comprehensive binder for providers identifying all low- or no-cost mental health resources in the county, and the other is an educational “board game” meant to reduce stigmas commonly associated with mental health care while at the same time assessing the users own mental health.

    “The concept is that you cannot reduce stigma by separating mental health from the rest of health care,” Ms. Rijeka said.

    “The integrative health path is meant to get people thinking about and assessing their mental health.”

    Recently the Petaluma Health Care District commissioned the development and distribution of 40 of the binders, and two are used at hospitals in Santa Rosa. The coalition has also produced about 2,000 of the educational board games.

    Ms. Rijeka emphasized that the soon-to-launch nonprofit is not meant to be a service provider but a facilitator of collaboration. The ultimate goal is to create a road map for issues such as depression, substance abuse and domestic violence with key strategies for addressing each, whether it be by way of policy or just where to receive services. The diagram is meant to generate a countywide consensus so that a clear front door and path through the system is established.

    The coalition is currently in the process of reconstructing its Web site, which should be completed by the nonprofit launch. The site will include a monthly newsletter and eventually a virtual version of the educational board game and mental health issue and strategies map.

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    Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Institute was recently ranked among the top 2 percent in the United States for the speed of its cardiac program, according to a report comparing the “door to balloon time” of 882 hospitals.

    According to cardiac experts, 90 minutes is the standard amount of time a hospital should take to reopen a blocked heart valve to avoid extensive tissue damage, but according to a recent report, Memorial’s is significantly faster. Before opening the heart institute, the hospital averaged about 78 minutes, but in the last six months that time has gone down to 68 minutes, according to a recent report by the American College of Cardiology.

    “When there is a blocked artery, it prevents blood from getting to the heart, which can damage the tissue. If that tissue is damaged, meaning we don’t open the vessel quick enough, scaring will occur in the area, and the pump becomes less effective,” said Trish Scalercio, a registered nurse and Memorial cath lab manager.

    “That is why we really strive to be well under the national standard.”

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    Submit items for this column to D. Ashley Furness at afurness@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4257 or fax 707-521-5292.

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