During County Government Month in April, CSAC is presenting blogs and short video features on 13 award-winning programs from nine counties that demonstrate effective, original and cost-conscious ways counties are serving their citizens.

Watch the video.

There’s a well-known quote that reads, “It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary.” In the case of Calaveras County’s behavioral health cell phone program, this simply holds true.

To address the isolation and disconnectedness of Calaveras County residents with serious mental illness, behavioral health officials created an innovative way to use mobile phones to support recovery and reduce psychiatric hospitalizations.

Pre-paid cell phones are purchased for the County’s high-need, Full Service Partnership (FSP) consumers. These phones are programmed with numbers of the consumer’s case manager, as well as other key contacts, such as family members, supportive friends and other consumers. Now each behavioral health consumer has a support system right at their fingertips rather than having to rely on a crisis line.

“If they have someone who knows them, who is familiar with the things they are struggling with, they feel much more comfortable talking to them,” explains Brock Kolby, Adult System of Care Supervisor for the County.

Case Manager Suzanna Gonzalez talks about how she and her colleagues can now help consumers “problem solve over the phone and help them to create their own support systems.”

Donovan Agasi is a Calaveras County resident who has benefited from this program – so much so that he wanted his story to be heard. Donovan emphatically calls his cell phone his “lifeline,” and believes it’s a reason why he hasn’t been hospitalized in the past three years.

“With the crisis line, you have a worry of being hospitalized. … It’s kind of threatening when you have to talk to someone you don’t know,” Agasi says. “I haven’t had to worry about that with the phone. I can talk to people that I know. They are there for you and it’s a really comfortable feeling.”

Calaveras County has seen a “dramatic” decline in re-hospitalizations over the past few years, according to Kolby. He attributes this to the Full Service Partnership program, which includes the cell phone program.

Kolby explains how reducing hospitalizations not only benefits FSP consumers, but also saves the county significant amount of money and staff time – in exchange for monthly cell minute cards and initial phone purchase.

“It’s a great success. It’s preventative in nature. It also saves a lot of money. It allows consumers to really access services and talk to people – and avoids costly hospitalizations,” Kolby summarizes.

Gonzalez emphasizes that the program has enhanced the relationship the FSP phone users have with their case managers. “It’s developed a relationship where they’re not afraid to tell us when things are going bad …. They have been able to really talk and trust that we will try to help them have the least restrictive environment. It’s really about supporting them in staying in the community.”

Agasi sums it up simply. “It’s just really helped me out,” he says. “I can’t express that enough.”

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 2011 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 2012 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 dliebler.at.counties.org.