Advancing Mental Health Policy
A unique and powerful new ally from our best friend ever
California’s mental health community has enjoyed an incredible run of legislative support over the past 16 years led by Darrell Steinberg, who is probably the first person elected to declare from the outset that his highest priority was to provide funding to support community mental health – especially for people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness due to their severe mental illness. His legislation in the Assembly laid the foundation for Proposition 63 which he co-authored with me. In the Senate he rose to the most powerful position in the legislature as Senate President Pro Tem. In the first few years, during a devastating state recession and budget deficits, all he could do was to minimize the losses. Finally in his last two years in office he was able to successfully get mental health front and center in the fight for very limited state budget funds for expansion of programs.
We all knew that he would be termed out in 2014. He announced early in the fall that he was joining a major international law firm, Greenberg Traurig, where he is working as a lawyer and not as a lobbyist. He also announced that he wanted to create a new nonprofit organization for mental health advocacy and to commit a meaningful amount of his time toward that purpose – with his time for this effort donated.
In my 36 years of lobbying I have never experienced a retiring legislator making such a commitment. It is just one more example of what an incredible friend and unique individual he is. What has been equally impressive is that it has quickly garnered the support it needs to succeed from foundations, the University of California and corporations and the initial focus of this new organization which is now known as “The Steinberg Institute” with a byline of “Advancing Mental Health Policy”.
This new institute is just getting started. As a first priority Darrell seeks to get as many legislators as possible interested in advancing bills to support mental health. In doing so, he conceded that he could not get legislators to be interested in mental health as a goal unto itself. However, he is convincing in explaining that addressing mental health issues is essential to success in public safety, education, health, (including reducing disparities in access for underserved communities), housing, and veterans’ issues which do enjoy broad interest among legislators.
He is meeting with legislators of both parties in order to enhance their interest and to help them develop viable legislative proposals based upon his vast knowledge and success.
Accordingly he is working on a package of bills he hopes to have introduced to address important mental health issues. Once that task is completed in February we expect him to bring together key parties to make sure that there is positive action on these proposals.
Beyond that he will be doing whatever someone in his unique position can do to continue to advance mental health policy.
I had feared what this year would be like without him in the legislature to lead our efforts. Fortunately we have not lost his leadership. He is just doing it from a new position, but one which actually seems to afford him even greater time to devote to our cause.
We are so grateful for him in committing so much of his time – all donated. We also thank the University of California at Davis School of Medicine for providing space and some staff support as well as several foundations and corporations. (a list still growing but so far including The California Endowment, The California Health Care Foundation, The California Hospital Association Foundation, Sierra Health Foundation, Telecare and Sunovian)
We can’t ever expect to have a legislative champion who does as much for us as Darrell Steinberg did. But we may be able to accomplish even more if we can develop dozens of champions each doing a little. That is his hope and ours.