By Eric Heinz

CalOptima Board of Directors on Thursday approved to put a total of $100 million toward resources to curtail homelessness throughout the county.

Initially, the board had approved about $25 million for Be Well OC, recuperative care, a clinical field team and CalOptima response team. Some of this would include sending out mobile health care units to provide basic but essential services.

“We want them to be proactive and reactive—proactive at certain shelters and reactive with response times of 90 minutes or less, 24-7 service,” said Michael Shrader, the CalOptima CEO, during the board meeting on Thursday.

But on Tuesday, April 2, federal judge David O. Carter wanted to see more money and to see it used within three years, and he held up three fingers to drive his point home during a hearing on the lawsuit related to homeless shelters and services. Carter said he wanted $140 million in the fund, but that failed to get support at the board meeting.

CalOptima is funding these efforts through intergovernmental transfers (IGT) of about $43 million as well as the revenue it gets from services rendered for the remainder of this fiscal year.

Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Buena Park, gave emotional testimony during the public comment portion of the meeting about how her brother, who she said dealt with chronic alcoholism and homelessness, died while living on the streets.

“I felt very compelled as the issue is not only near to my heart but something I’m working at the state with legislation not only on homeless but housing,” Quirk-Silva said. “For decades, I tried to speak with probation officers, but I found it hard to navigate the health system. You might have people who are healthy, but after months on the street, (it’s) going to take a toll.”

Concerns were brought forth by Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, who is a member on the CalOptima board, about whether they had the authority to make these allocations based on their size and scope. Do made the motion to raise the amount to $140 million.

“…We were assured that the legal opinion would be independent,” Do said regarding legal counsel on what services the money would be able to be used for. He was concerned only two services would be provided, but board members said otherwise.

Of the $100 million that’s going into the fund, $60 million is earmarked for an ambiguous “new initiatives.” Another $10.5 million will be allocated to help hospitals coordinate on homeless resources, which will include data-sharing technologies for the county’s hospitals. Board members said in order for this to work, the hospitals need to be dialed into what CalOptima has proposed.

“Our coordinated services will include urgent care, wound care, vaccinations, screenings and prescription medications as well as referrals and appointment scheduling,” said Dr. Nikan Khatibi, CalOptima vice chairman of the board, in a press release on Friday. “Our specialized teams will have regular hours at shelters, be on-call and able to coordinate referrals for behavioral health, substance abuse, recuperative care and social services.”

In order to help make this process financially feasible, directors said that enrolling people—who are more than likely eligible—in CalOptima and get them the support that they need. One director said nonprofit hospitals lose about $500 million a year in the county because they can’t be reimbursed for medical services provided to homeless people who aren’t on the county’s system.

A bill that was signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown now requires hospitals to ensure that a person is cognizant of their surroundings and have some kind of place to go or care person to look after them before they’re discharged from a hospital.

The services are expected to begin within the next couple of months, but some of those efforts may start sooner.

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