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County Focuses More Attention on Mental Health



For the first time, San Diego County is poised to dispatch mobile teams of mental health professionals dedicated to responding to people in crisis instead of sending police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

It is a long-awaited program that has yet to play out in large numbers, but public health officials nonetheless hope it will help turn a corner in the years-old struggle to improve the government’s handling of mentally ill people.

“When I ran for the board, I was very critical of the prior board for not investing the funds, committing the resources and making regional behavioral health a priority,” said Nathan Fletcher, who was elected in 2018 and now chairs the body.

“We set about (figuring out) how we could provide a better way,” Fletcher said.

With support from fellow Democrats Nora Vargas and Terra Lawson-Remer, who each joined the board last year, San Diego County is investing in behavioral health on a scale that has never been seen before.

“All of these things really fit together. We’re not just throwing more money at a problem,” said Fletcher, a former combat Marine and relatively new member of the Democratic Party. “We are trying to completely reimagine and rebuild a system, and that takes money.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, calls for mental health services were escalating.

A report by the regional planning agency San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, said the number of mental health calls climbed by 84 percent between 2009 and 2015, from just over 17,000 a year to almost 32,000.

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