New Web Site Offers Ventura County Residents Help for Mental Illness

August 2, 2006
Ventura County Star

OXNARD, Calif. – For the mentally ill and their families, the process of getting help can be daunting.

"We're asked for resources, housing and doctors," said Ratan Bhavnani, president of the Ventura County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "We still get calls from family members who have no idea where to turn for help."

He said the task got easier with a new Web site the Ventura County Behavioral Health Department introduced Tuesday to families, clients and counselors.

The Network of Care site provides information on counseling services and low-cost insurance; an archive of news articles on mental health issues; message boards; details on pending legislation; explanations about medications and disorders for a general audience; links to other sites; information on support groups; and direct e-mail to legislators considering mental health bills. Also included are information and resources for people dealing with substance abuse.

Officials said all counties in California offer the Network of Care site. Locally, it is accessed at http://www.ventura.networkofcare.org.

The site is offered in English, with limited, hand-translated versions provided in six other languages, including Spanish. There is no fee for its use.

Linda Shulman, director of Behavioral Health, said the site allows residents to find resources without having to spend a lot of time.

"Network of Care is an incredibly important project for people with mental illness in Ventura County and all of California," she said.

State mental health officials allowed funding from a voter-approved income tax on millionaires to underwrite the cost, which extended the site's offerings across California's 58 counties. But five counties, including Ventura, had already begun the effort on their own, said Kathy Sterbenc, publisher of Network of Care.

Trilogy Integrated Resources of San Rafael, which developed and maintains the site, charged Ventura County $20,000 for it.

Network of Care is constantly being revamped and updated, Trilogy senior consultant Stephen T. Marks told several clients and family members attending a how-to session Tuesday in Oxnard.

The group watched as Marks showed them the lineup, from directories of organizations to counseling centers with addresses linked to MapQuest.

Family members were particularly impressed with a link allowing them to e-mail every member of political committees considering legislation affecting the mentally ill. But they wanted more information on psychiatrists who would take Medi-Cal, the state insurance program for the poor and people with disabilities.

Bhavnani said the process of getting information has been disjointed in the past.

"This seems to put it all together in one place," he said.