Web Site Details Health Resources

May 23, 2006
Contra Costa Times

For those who feel like they are slipping over the edge, or for friends and family who want to pull a loved one back to reality, local support and helpful information have arrived online.

A state department launched mental and behavioral health Web sites this week for most California regions, including the East Bay.

The sites, which can be accessed from www.networkofcare.org, provide links to relevant legislation. They include a library with more than 30,000 articles on topics such as "Talking to Children about Terrorism and War" and "Seasonal Affective Disorder."

They also identify county-specific resources, such as support and advocacy groups ARC of Contra Costa County and local Alcoholic Anonymous chapters.

"This is basically the first time where all the information ... is put into one place," said Bruce Bronzan, president of Trilogy Integrated Resources, which operates the site. "It's actually more like a virtual community than a Web site."

The deliberate simplicity of the site's front page makes it user-friendly but downplays the depth of the content within its links, Bronzan said. A colorful flowerlike design on the right side of the page, with pictures of children, seniors and a stressed-out person in the petals, depicts some the menu options on the left.

Almost every California county has its own version of the site, and each includes a tool sidebar with content tailored to what the region has to offer.

Users can locate low-cost or private insurance agencies in their area. They can read about mental health conditions, developmental disabilities, legal issues and recovery and treatment in the virtual library.

Within the "services" menu Contra Costa County are links to 35 organizations that deal with addiction and substance abuse, as well as addresses, phone numbers and driving directions. Alameda County's site has about 20 service categories listed, including homeless services, sexual issues and transportation.

"All of these things combined make it very, very unique," Bronzan said.

Another personal touch is the "My Folder" option, where people can store health care information and research, according to the Web site.

The Web site is free. The funding comes from the Mental Health Services Act, approved as Proposition 63 by voters in 2004. The state will pay to maintain the Web site during its first year, and the counties will pay for subsequent years.

The Mental/Behavior Health Web site was tested in four counties, starting with San Diego about four years ago, and has spread to nine other states.

The Network of Care also began in California, providing aging and long-term care information online for Alameda and Sacramento counties about six years ago, Bronzan said. The network has expanded to cover other issues, including domestic violence and developmental disabilities.

The mental health component "wasn't built for the bureaucracy," he said. "It was built for the community." But now caseworkers from social agencies frequent the site.

Frequent users will find current phone and address information, unlike in phone books that are updated once a year, Bronzan said.

"Because (the network) is Web-based it can be upgraded instantly."