The COVID-19 pandemic has driven changes in the operation of Santa Barbara County’s Health and Human Services departments that, in many cases, are expected to carry over into the 2021-22 fiscal year, the Board of Supervisors was told on April 14.

Directors and staff of Child Support Services, First 5, Social Services, Behavioral Wellness and Public Health departments outlined their challenges and accomplishments, preliminary budgets and goals for the coming fiscal year Wednesday in the second of two budget workshops.

Supervisors heard how the departments used grant funding and collaborative efforts with other departments, as well as private partners and nonprofit organizations, to respond to the pandemic.

Like all the rest of the county’s departments, none of the five is expecting any reductions in service, but none are asking for any funds for expansion or to restore services.

Although the Public Health Department has been in the spotlight all year as it led the response to the pandemic, it had the shortest presentation and drew no questions from the board.

Behavioral Wellness had one of the longest presentations and drew some of what one supervisor called “the hard questions” from the board.

Public Health Department

With almost 530 staff members, Public Health’s preliminary operating budget is just under $100.8 million, plus a capital budget of $910,000 that includes $150,000 to build a physical connection between the two Lompoc Health Care Center buildings to create a single facility.

The requested General Fund contribution of just over $9 million is for mandatory local matching funds.

Department Director Van Do-Reynoso said so far, the department has spent $19.5 million and its personnel have logged 215,300 hours responding to the pandemic, but she expects to receive full reimbursement from new government funding sources.

Contact tracers have followed 33,736 cases, and the department has supported 600 individuals in isolation and quarantine, she said.

Do-Reynoso added the department created a network of vaccination providers that, with the county, have administered 262,399 doses of COVID-19 vaccine — ranking the county 18th in the state — and fully vaccinated 21.5% of the population.

Supervisors praised the department’s pandemic response, noting its COVID-19 dashboard should be a model for all departments and highlighting the low staff turnover.

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“I’ve seen public health officials throughout the state pack it in and say, ‘This isn’t for me,’” 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said.

Behavioral Wellness Department

The Behavioral Wellness Department’s preliminary budget includes an operating fund of just over $148.5 million for its almost 411 employees and seeks a General Fund contribution of just under $5.8 million.

Its capital budget of just over $2.5 million includes $200,000 to create a Select Psychiatric Health Facility Electronic Health Record and an Electronic Medication Administration Record.

Dr. Alice Gleghorn, department director, called the COVID-19 pandemic the “overriding issue” for Behavioral Wellness and not only put a strain on the public but also on the staff and its systems.

But it prompted the department to rapidly transition to a successful telehealth system, Gleghorn said.

Prior to the pandemic, just 1.5% of routine outpatient services were delivered via telehealth; currently, 80.5% of those services are via telehealth.

The department created Zoom-enabled kiosks at its health clinics to serve the homeless and others without computer and internet access, but Gleghorn said 33% of the staff worked to provide face-to-face contact for those who wanted it.

Despite the pandemic and working remotely, the staff increased productivity by 12%.

However, Gleghorn pointed out the department’s programs are funded by grants that get them off the ground and allow them to be evaluated for effectiveness, but the grants don’t provide any funding to sustain those programs.

“They have no local funding,” she said. “They will go away if we don’t figure out a way to proactively sustain them.”

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