East Palo Alto Behavioral Health Advisory Group (EPABHAG)
About the East Palo Alto Behavioral Health Advisory Group
In the fall of 2005, concerned East Palo Alto (EPA) residents and stakeholders engaged in a discussion with San Mateo County mental health staff and decision-makers at a meeting of the County’s Mental Health Board that was held in EPA. During the meeting, community members raised several questions about the County’s efforts to secure major Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funding, and specifically expressed serious doubts about the adequacy of the then proposed grant project to adequately address several critical needs of the EPA community. MHSD staff responded by inviting community members to continue the discussion of issues and questions raised in a subsequent meeting, and One East Palo Alto (OEPA) Neighborhood Improvement Initiative offered to convene the follow up session.
The follow up process launched a series of meetings and an extended dialogue between the County and EPA stakeholders which, in turn, produced several other important results. First, a context was established within which MHSD staff and community members could productively consider and pursue collaborative efforts to address shared concerns. Second, community members developed a detailed description of concerns and recommendations to be addressed through potential MHSA funding- related opportunities, contingent upon the success of the County’s grant application. When such success was achieved early in 2006 with the approval of the MHSA Community Services and Supports grant proposal, the dialogue shifted to more specific initiatives. EPA residents and stakeholders identified and proposed to MHSD staff a number of priority improvements to be made in the quality and availability of local mental health services. The proposed improvements addressed, among other things, access, culturally inappropriate treatments, and/or un- and under-service for the community’s major ethnic subpopulations – Latinos, African Americans and Pacific Islanders. They also indicated desired results of efforts to achieve two main goals: (1) increase equity and access for un-served and under-served East Palo Alto residents, and (2) create culturally competent, ethnically diverse community response teams.
Third, community members were prompted to establish an advisory group that would formally engage with MHSD staff on strategies for improving access to and design of mental health services in EPA. Associated activities began to take shape in the spring of 2006 and were finalized in May.
Thus, the East Palo Alto Mental Health Advisory Group (EPAMHAG) was officially formed, comprising heads of some of EPA’s leading nonprofits and faith organizations, as well as residents at large who participated in the extended EPA-MHSD dialogue (see EPAMHAG Historical Roster next page). Notably, the group’s makeup was then and still is representative of all three of the community’s major ethnic subpopulations. Also notable is the fact that since 2006, the former Mental Health Services Division, now subsumed under San Mateo County’s Behavioral Health & Recovery Services (BHRS) unit, has contracted with OEPA to facilitate EPAMHAG’s development and continue to convene the group, as well as provide training and other administrative supports for its initiatives.
Today, EPAMHAG serves as the hub of an exciting array of mental health initiatives in EPA which have been conducted to achieve the group’s mission of ensuring a healthier East Palo Alto community by bridging the mental health divide through advocacy, systems change, resident engagement and expansion of local resources leading to increased resident awareness of and access to culturally and linguistically competent professional services. Perhaps most significantly, EPAMHAG enjoys a positive and productive partnership with San Mateo County BHRS which, in combination with the dedicated efforts of group members, has led to the establishment of impressive new mental health initiatives benefiting EPA residents such as the annual Family Awareness event (since 2007) and the Circle of Healing (since 2011). EPAMHAG’s work has also created unprecedented access to opportunities for OEPA to lead and/or implement MHSA-funded initiatives, such as development and operation of The Barbara A. Mouton Multicultural Wellness Center [since 2008] and Behavioral Health Opportunities in Careers [since 2010] as well as to coordinate service delivery by other EPA-based nonprofits such as the East Palo Alto Partnership for Mental Health Outreach [since 2007].