verticalDuring County Government Month in April, CSAC is presenting blogs and short video features on 14 award-winning programs from 10 counties that demonstrate effective, original and cost-conscious ways counties are serving their citizens.

Rural counties face their own unique challenges; the remoteness of a location can pose logistical issues on many fronts for county government. Such was the challenge facing Calaveras County‘s Behavioral Health Department when it came to hiring qualified mental health staff.  Clinical positions were often vacant up to a year. Existing staff in other positions did not have the ability to pursue their education in order to climb the career ladder and fill these vacancies. 

The innovative solution: create an educational career leader, sponsor previously non-existent certificate and degree programs, and provide tuition assistance to support staff growth. Calaveras County officials call it “growing their own.” Behavioral Health staff calls it a fantastic opportunity, as they can now pursue new educational – and career – opportunities while not having to face logistical and transportation obstacles. It’s truly a win-win. 

The education program is two-fold, encompassing a new rural mental health masters program at CSU Sacramento, and two new psychology programs at Columbia College. The masters program at Sacramento State is helping Calaveras County fill its vacancies as staff members are now able to climb the career ladder. The new peer-to-peer program is also offering dividends. When you talk to students, such as Martin and Rita, you can hear the pride in their voices. They are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead as they plan to give back to the community by helping others. They want to make a difference. Christa Thompson, who oversees the program for the Behavioral Health Department, describes it best: “If you asked them two years ago, ‘What’s your role?’, they would have said patient or client. And now I hear things like peer specialist, student, consumer leadership team member… and that’s the most satisfying results from this program.”

The programs are the first of their kind in California and they are working. Since these programs started, more than 40 percent of the county’s mental health staff have returned to school. The result is a more educated, fulfilled staff, which translates into better services delivered to county residents.

Congratulations to Calaveras County for showing that “county government works.” To review a  video of this program, click here.

County Government works, which is why Californians prefer to have programs and services managed and operated at the local level.  The county programs featured by CSAC during County Government Month are 2010 CSAC Challenge Award recipients. These awards recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens. The Call for Entries for the 2011 CSAC Challenge Awards is being distributed this month.

David Liebler is the Director of Public Affairs and Member Services for the California State Association of Counties. He can be reached at