San Bernardino County Gives Patients New Online Center

June 23, 2006
San Bernardino County Sun

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Modern technology is hardly the first thing one associates with mental illness. But this week's debut of a Web site specific to mental health in San Bernardino County could make the internet the main source of help.

The Network of Care, a free site at www.sanbernardino.networkofcare.org, offers visitors information and local resources, as well as a password-protected folder to keep information about diagnoses, medications and hospitalization.

"It's just monumental. There's been nothing like this before," said Rebecca Vasquez, who oversees the site's local content for the county Department of Behavioral Health.

Until now, resources and information given to clients have been on paper or in booklets that take months to prepare and are outdated even before they can be distributed, she said.

The Web site is only about 30 percent complete, but Vasquez said it will continue to expand and be updated regularly.

Doris Turner, president of the San Bernardino-area chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said the site will be especially useful for families of mentally ill people who reach out to her for help and advice.

But Sharon Bouwman, 57, of Ontario, who said she receives help from the county for depression and "a little paranoia," doesn't trust the internet.

"I don't like my name floating out there," she said as she sat in the waiting room at the county Behavioral Health Resource Center in Rialto.

There is also no reason for her to keep a formal list of her medications and medical information because, she said, pointing to her head, "it's all up here."

If she changed her mind, though, Bouwman said her sister lives next door and has a computer she can use.

Such reluctance was initially a concern, but officials were surprised by how many people eventually embraced the system, said Bruce Bronzan, founder of Trilogy Integrated Resources in San Rafael, which developed the Network of Care.

"We've all learned a lesson from this: not to underestimate the mentally ill," he said. "The vast majority use the internet. The truth is most of our society, even the poor, now are online."

If San Diego County's site is any indication, San Bernardino County's will become a widely used resource.

San Diego County's site went online in 2003 and now gets more visitors than all other county mental-health services combined, Bronzan said.

Half of the visitors are clients and their caregivers, and the rest are primarily agencies and case managers, he said.

The Network of Care is supported by money from Proposition 63, a voter-approved state initiative that is funding improvements to the mental-health system in order to reach the undertreated population.