Kern County has implemented a new system to provide a wider range of services to residents seeking substance abuse treatment.

Medi-Cal is expanding services to its patients through its new Drug Medi-Cal Organized Delivery System, which gives those seeking treatment easier access to services, medications and resources, including their own case manager.

Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, which runs the county's mental health and addiction services, began using the new system on March 1.

“The idea really is to eliminate the barriers to treatment,” said Roger Perez, public information officer for Kern BHRS. “This new system offers easier access and more complete treatment. We want to provide as much support as we can.”

One major change is the primary point of entry for people seeking treatment: a new 24-hour phone-screening program provided by its Gateway Services Team. 

Previously, people had to seek help in-person during regular business hours at one of the organization’s several locations in Kern County, including one in the county courthouse, to start the referral process.

“Imagine someone seeking that kind of treatment — having to go through metal detectors and all of that — how intimidating and stigmatizing that was, how much of a barrier that was,” Perez said.

Now, people can contact the organization for services at any time day or night from the comfort of their own home, which Kern BHRS said has already led to an increase in demand for services in the week or so it has implemented the new system.

Specific numbers were not immediately available but Perez said they will have a better idea of the new system’s impact by end of March or beginning of April.

As part of the new screening system, callers take a short questionnaire so Kern BHRS can assess their need for treatment services, after which they will be referred to a provider to get a full assessment and sign up for treatment.

While the organization said the phone system is the primary way it wants people to make initial contact for treatment, it still accepts in-person visits at its locations.

Another major change is that every client will now have their own case manager, something that didn’t exist before.

Case managers will be on hand to ensure an easy transition between levels of care as well as transitioning out of treatment, to provide resources and links to extra support, help with choosing a physician, making appointments and more.

Lorena Diaz, program coordinator for the Substance Use Disorder division, said she is particularly excited about the fact that case managers will be able to keep tabs on their clients after they finish treatment, something she said Kern BHRS couldn't do well before due to staffing limitations and other factors.

“The case manager can be that guide, that person that follows them through that process of transitioning in and out of treatment,” she said. “Once they finish treatment, they might come across situations where they get triggered, they may need a little more support. They can call us up and their case manager will help them.”

The program is also bulking up its non-methadone medication options as well as its peer support, physician support and residential recovery services.

All services are for Medi-Cal enrollees only. Diaz said while Kern BHRS has some clients that don’t use Medi-Cal, most of them are enrolled.

Kern County is just one of many counties in California that are implementing the new voluntary system. Medi-Cal began rolling it out to counties starting in 2017, and so far 40 of them have either already implemented it or have indicated that they plan to do so.

Diaz said Kern BHRS typically serves around 2,500 people on any given day. With the new system in place, Diaz estimated that could jump to around 4,000. To meet the expected demand, she said the organization has hired additional staff.

“We’ve been able to expand not only our services but also the level of staffing we can offer to provide those services,” she said.

Diaz said she hopes the added services and staff will help significantly reduce the number of people with substance use disorders in the county and cut down on drug-related deaths.

According to Kern BHRS data, the county had around 378,000 Medi-Cal beneficiaries as of July 2018, of which 38,000 to 53,000 of them were estimated to have a some kind of substance use disorder, representing up to nearly 15 percent of total beneficiaries.

Of those, only a few thousand of them ended up getting treatment, according to the data. With the new system, Diaz said that could change, which would be a benefit for clients as well as reduce costs for care.

“The end goal is to help reduce instances of clients that are high users of emergency services,” she said. “We want to get them in appropriate treatments before they end up in E.R. rooms.”

Joseph Luiz can be reached at 395-7368 or by email at jluiz@bakersfield.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @JLuiz_TBC. 

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