Wednesday, December 8, 2010
One morning in early December, county employee Eddie Sanchez walked me through a suburban office building in El Centro that goes by a very non-descript name: The Resource Center.
SAN DIEGO One morning in early December, county employee Eddie Sanchez walked me through a suburban office building in El Centro that goes by a very non-descript name: The Resource Center.
What's remarkable about the Resource Center is its array of programs aimed at helping people with serious mental illnesses. Among the many classes offered there is quilting, taught by volunteer Maria Duarte, who says the class is very therapeutic for one woman she teaches.
"I can see the change in her,” she said. “Her hands are not shaking. And when she says, ‘Maria I'm tired.’ I say, ‘Oh sweetheart, you can go now.’"
The Resource Center is operated by the Imperial County Department of Behavioral Heath. It was made possible by funds raised through Proposition 63. Called the millionaire’s tax – it’s a surtax on incomes above $1 million – prop 63 was passed six years ago to raise money to treat the mentally ill.
Mike Horn, the county's director of Behavioral Health, says the funding has allowed Imperial County to create a mental health program more comprehensive than anything they had in the past. Along with medication and counseling, the Resource Center offers computer classes, vocational training, art classes and instruction in social skills. Horn adds that the Prop 63 funding has come with a new expectation -- recovery.
"I think in the mental health system, historically, the measure of success has been that somebody didn't go the hospital. In other words, they weren't hospitalized,” he said. “And to a certain extent, that's a pretty good measurement. But I think people who were driving forces behind Proposition 63 said, ‘That's not enough. People need to get better.’"
The Resource Center in Imperial County is not designed for people with mild cases of depression and the like. The 160 people enrolled in the program have disabling psychiatric problems like schizophrenia or severe bipolar disorders.
One part of the center is the injectable drug clinic. Injectable anti-psychotic drugs can last in a person's system for two to four weeks, making it much less likely that patients will go off their medications.
One of the patients who uses injectable drugs is 30-year-old Luis Ceseña. He wears a black stocking cap, indoors and out, and he has a disheveled look. I asked him why he attends the clinic.
"For my voices,” he said.
“Because you hear voices?” I asked.
“Does that prevent you from hearing voices?”
“Yea, I guess,” said Ceseña. “When I drink my pills I feel like the voices go a little bit away."
I asked Ceseña what his goals were. He said he wanted to stay off of illegal drugs. I got a very different response from 45-year-old Antonio Carona, another patient at the Resource Center. Antonio looks neat and organized. His manner is enthusiastic. Corona said he wants to attend San Diego State University, and his goal is to reach for the stars.
"I like astronomy. I like to explore the universe,” he said. “Antimatter. Matter. To explore the galaxies. And work as a painter! As an artist. So I work as an artist and do research as a scientist in astronomy."
If the ultimate goal of the Resource Center is to turn patients into independent, productive people, that's a particular challenge in Imperial County. By some measures, this is the poorest county in California.
The unemployment rate in El Centro, home to the resource center, is 30 percent. The Resource Center's Cindy Coronado said one missing piece in the program is job placement services. As to what constitutes recovery, she said it depends.
"My personal recovery is anything that is contributing and adding meaning to my life,” said Coronado. “One person here said, ‘I have all of these goals. I want to be an astronomer.’ And the second person said, ‘I just want to stay off of drugs. That would be recovery for me.’"
The Resource Center has been operating for about a year. Mike Horn, the head of the department, said he's not yet prepared to measure the program's success. But judging by the old yardstick he mentioned above, things are going great. The Resource Center has only seen one of its patients hospitalized over the past six months.