County Supports Mental Health Services for Medi-Cal Teens in North County

August 14, 2018


SAN JOSE – On Tuesday, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved additional resources for mental health services for teens on Medi-Cal in the North County through funding for El Camino Hospital’s After-School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education® (ASPIRE) program.

“We know that kids who are struggling aren’t limited to any one income bracket,” said Board President Joe Simitian, who has pushed to bring accessible and affordable mental health services to teens in the North County. “It’s our responsibility as a community to make sure that a lack of resources isn’t a cause for lack of care.”

El Camino Hospital’s ASPIRE is an intensive outpatient therapy program designed for teenage youth ages 13-18 who are experiencing significant anxiety, depression, or other symptoms related to a mental health condition. It was started in 2010 by El Camino Hospital after a series of tragic events occurred in the Bay Area involving youth who died by suicide. 

As a result of the Boards approval of the item, families will be able to use their Medi-Cal coverage for the ASPIRE program this fall. This will be funded through a combination of County and Federal funds.

"If we see this as a shared responsibility, an approach that captures the talent and resources of healthcare providers throughout the county, I think anything is possible,” said Simitian. "Whether a family is commercially insured, paying out-of-pocket, relying on Medi-Cal, or wholly uninsured, I want to be sure there's a program for their kids when they need it most.”

This is the first time the County has authorized the use of Medi-Cal funding to provide such services. Simitian specifically noted his desire to see other mental health providers serving teens similarly engaged.

"Time after time, the saddest part of the story is that a kid didn't reach out earlier, didn't have the opportunity to get help when they really needed it,” said Simitian. “The appeal of programs like ASPIRE is that they’re designed to engage youngsters who are struggling, long before they hit a crisis point."

“It’s groundbreaking for a Medi-Cal contract to cover an intensive outpatient mental health program like ASPIRE. It shows that our county leaders support broadening the Medi-Cal funded network of mental health services for low income adolescents and their parents,” said Daniel Becker, MD, Chief Medical Director of Mental Health & Addiction Services at El Camino Hospital.

Over the course of the eight-week ASPIRE program teens will learn coping strategies to deal with the pressures of life using an approach called dialectical behavioral therapy. Teens participate in individual, group and family counseling, and take part in art therapy and other skills-building activities in a positive learning environment. The after-school format provides treatment without impeding on young people’s lives. ASPIRE is accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges as a high school supplementary education program, offering full academic credit for those who complete the program. Services are available at both El Camino Hospital campuses in Los Gatos and Mountain View.

“El Camino Hospital is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all young people. While we have always accepted public coverage like Medi-Cal and Medicare for hospital services, this new Medi-Cal coverage for teen mental health services is a first,” said Dan Woods, Chief Executive Officer of El Camino Hospital. “This partnership with Santa Clara County validates the impact our innovative ASPIRE program has on the lives of the more than 1,000 youth who have graduated from the program.”

Providing Medi-Cal coverage for the ASPIRE program is one of a series of steps that Santa Clara County is taking to ensure that youth in the County have access to the mental health services they need.

The County is in the process of designing an in-county facility with inpatient youth psych beds at Valley Medical Center to provide psychiatric services for children and adolescents.  That effort is the result of a proposal by Simitian in June of 2015, after he documented the hundreds of local youth annually being sent to Alameda County, Sacramento County, Solano County, Contra Costa County, and elsewhere for inpatient psychiatric treatment. Youth currently average a stay of six to seven days in these out-of-county hospitals.

Additionally, in 2016, Simitian successfully proposed County funding for a “headspace” program at Stanford Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, a new effort aimed at making early behavioral health care accessible and approachable for kids in Santa Clara County. At Simitian’s urging, the County funded $600k over three years to provide staffing at the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.

The County has also provided a three-year grant for Youth Community Services (YCS) to pilot a program aimed at connecting youth ages 11 through 18 with community programs to improve social connectedness and emotional health. As Simitian put it, “The emotional well-being of these kids requires something they can say yes to and be positive about.”



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