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Sonoma County taps Napa County mental health director to head behavioral health services

Former Napa County mental health director Bill Carter has been tapped to run Sonoma County’s behavioral health division, a nearly $100 million agency that was rocked by labor strife and the April resignation of its former director.

Carter, chosen following a competitive recruitment process, directed mental health programs in Napa County for the past four years. Prior to that, he was the agency’s compliance officer.

Sonoma County officials touted Carter’s 30 years of experience in mental health and social services. Between 1999 and 2010, he served as an administrator for the California Institute for Mental Health.

Carter said Tuesday one of his main priorities is bringing psychiatric hospital beds back to Sonoma County. The region’s last two psychiatric hospitals, both in Santa Rosa, were mothballed more than a decade ago, when the facilities were shuttered for financial reasons.

“It will be one of my priority projects in my first year,” he said, adding that there’s also a “severe shortage” of psychiatric beds across the state.

“People in psychiatric crisis don’t have the appropriate care available to them when they need it,” he said.

Carter said often mental health patients have to travel outside the county to distant facilities for inpatient treatment.

“Having a facility in Sonoma County will be a huge benefit to people who have psychiatric crises because they will get the care they need and they will get it close to home,” he said.

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Carter said health services officials are negotiating with a provider to operate a 16-bed facility that, due to its small size, will be eligible for federal Medicaid dollars. Larger psychiatric hospitals cannot draw down Medicaid funds and therefore are harder to financially sustain, he said.

As director of behavioral health services here, Carter will head both mental health and substance abuse services operations. He replaces former behavioral health director Michael Kennedy, who headed the agency for nearly a decade.

Kennedy, who went on paid administrative leave in early March, resigned from his position in late April after brokering a settlement deal with the county on terms of his exit. His departure followed a monthslong campaign by county health services officials to dramatically reduce mental health and substance abuse staff to narrow budget deficits.

Sources in the local mental health community, including county staff members, said Kennedy opposed many of those staffing cuts. At the time, Barbie Robinson, director of the health services department and Kennedy’s boss, said inaccurate revenue projections, increasing costs and declining revenue led to perennial budget deficits.

After Kennedy’s departure, the county’s top staff psychiatrist, Michael Kozart, was appointed interim director of mental health services.

Carter said he hopes to bring stability to the division.

“It’s been a complex budget over the last year, with lots of changes,” he said. “I’m looking forward to helping the division stabilize and rebound from that and to bring some consistency to behavioral health services.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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