Santa Clara County expands mental health navigator program
New funding from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has enabled the Navigator program to grow and offer in-person services countywide. Photo courtesy of the County of Santa Clara Health System.

    One of Santa Clara County’s newest mental health programs is expanding due to high demand.

    The Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Navigator Program launched last July in San Jose and Gilroy, connecting residents to county-contracted mental health services. Part of the program’s plan has been to increase its field services. As demand increased, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors authorized an additional $366,770 in January for the upcoming fiscal year, bringing total program funding to $855,801. With the extra funds, the program will have three peer navigators in the field covering Cupertino, Los Gatos, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale. 

    Bruce Copley, behavioral health director of access and unplanned services, said the county connected almost 8,000 people with health services through the navigator call center during its first year.

    “We’ve been a success in what we predicted would be the call demand,” Copley told San José Spotlight. “Individuals are aware it’s a resource for them and their families.”

    The infusion of funds has enabled the hiring of additional peer support staff to meet clients in person to suggest appropriate health care services, he said. 

    The program’s first-year budget was $489,029, Copley said. The increase in funds adds two additional peer navigators who will work in the field. The team also includes a program manager, office specialist and a licensed clinical staff person who provides clinical support to six peer specialists. 

    “It reaches our services out to the community,” Copley said, “and let’s us meet with individuals who have more difficult problems… to assist them in strategizing how they can overcome the obstacles they’re facing with getting health care and other community services that they or their family need.” 

    Trained peer navigators listen to problems, provide information and connect people with resources for mental health, substance use, suicide prevention and support groups. Navigators are versed in county services and nonprofit partners who offer these programs. As peers, family members and caregivers for someone who has experienced the behavioral health system, their lived experience makes them compassionate guides. 

    Typically, individuals calling the center have struggled to locate community resources, including people with private insurance or families struggling to find a primary care physician, Copley said.

    “The team is there to help them navigate, identify what the issues are and come up with a plan for getting what they need in terms of support,” he told San José Spotlight.

    Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian said the mental health needs of people in the community are extensive and growing, but it can be challenging for residents to make their way through a complex, confusing and disjointed system.

    “We want to make it easy for folks to access these services,” he told San José Spotlight. “The challenge is compounded by the fact that folks… are at a very difficult time of their lives… when they’re in a world of hurt.”

    Simitian said the demand for the program made it clear that it needed to spread deeper into the community.

    “A local library like Los Gatos is an ideal location,” he said. “We need more partnerships like this if we’re going to deliver services out to the community where people need them and can easily access them in a venue that is a trusted and familiar location.”

    Santa Clara County residents can contact the Behavioral Health Navigator Program by calling (800) 704-0900, option 4, or emailing [email protected].

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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