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Home 9 All 9 School Districts Partner with Local Health Plan to Address Student Behavioral Health

School Districts Partner with Local Health Plan to Address Student Behavioral Health

Jun 15, 2023

CenCal Health collaborates with area public schools to improve youth mental health access

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – May 8, 2023 – CenCal Health will partner with county offices of education and local educational agencies in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties to strengthen behavioral health infrastructure in public schools. Created and funded by the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), the State’s new Student Behavioral Health Incentive Program (SBHIP) will serve Medi-Cal members from transitional kindergarten through 12th grade. CenCal Health is the

Medi-Cal health plan that works with local providers to deliver health care services to members – one in four residents of Santa Barbara County and one in five residents of San Luis Obispo County. Nearly 40% of these members are children and youth. “Collaborating with area schools and local providers, we can significantly increase access to quality healthcare – including behavioral health – for our youth and their families,” said CenCal Health CEO Marina Owen, in making the new program announcement.

Mental health among youth has been challenged in recent years due to an increase in bullying, issues of self-identity, school shootings and violence, and limited behavioral health services. In 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14. The isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to all-time high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. “The lack of school-based supportive services exacerbated an already fragile state of behavioral health among students,” said CenCal Health Chief Customer Experience & Health Equity Officer Van Do-Reynoso, MPH, Ph.D.

To address these issues, DHCS created and funded SBHIP to “ensure every child receives the behavioral health services they are entitled to, the first time, and every time, they seek care.” With children and youth spending many hours a day in school, DHCS recognized that educational settings are critical points of access to obtain early identification and treatment for behavioral health services. In addition to leveraging schools as access points, school-based health care has proven to be an effective tool for addressing disparities among children and adolescents due to their race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. CenCal Health will potentially administer close to $7 million for the SBHIP program in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

CenCal Health worked with each county through the county’s office of education to determine qualifications, participation, and specific needs. As a result, three Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) are taking part in San Luis Obispo County and six in Santa Barbara County.

In Santa Barbara County, the participating LEAs are:

  • Carpinteria Unified School District
  • Cuyama Unified School District
  • Guadalupe Unified School District
  • Lompoc Unified School District
  • Santa Barbara County Education Office
  • Santa Maria Bonita School District

In San Luis Obispo County, the participating LEAs are:

  • Lucia Mar Unified School District
  • San Luis Coast Unified School District
  • San Luis Obispo County Office of Education

A comprehensive assessment of these school districts and agencies found that the two counties’ top behavioral health needs in youth are anxiety, depression, substance use disorder and trauma. The assessment also identified needs in the delivery system in order to support improving behavioral health within schools. These systemic needs included universal screening, tiered interventions, and education for adults on how to make referrals.

“Direct and immediate access to mental health resources, including prevention, early intervention, and treatment, are critical,” said Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools Susan Salcido, Ed.D. “In addition, SBHIP will offer comprehensive services to help parents and families understand and navigate mental health distress when they see it in their children.”

“Our schools appreciate the partnership with CenCal Health and the State to build innovative mental health programs that will be supportive of our students and their families,” said James Brescia, Ed.D., San Luis Obispo County Superintendent of Schools.

The federal government administers Medicaid; Medi-Cal is the name of California’s Medicaid benefits program. DHCS funds health care services for nearly 15 million Medi-Cal beneficiaries. About one-third of Californians receive health care services financed or organized by DHCS. In 2022, DHCS launched the California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal program – known as CalAIM – the far-reaching, multi-year plan to transform Medi-Cal. CalAIM’s expanded services go beyond traditional medical care, addressing social factors that affect human health from birth to end of life, including behavioral health, homelessness, care of older adults and beyond.

“This Student Behavioral Health program is another innovative CalAIM initiative that we are honored to support in the communities we serve,” said Owen. “CenCal Health and its partners are wholly committed to improving the quality of life and health outcomes for all Central Coast residents.”

For more information on how CenCal Health is implementing CalAIM locally, go to

About CenCal Health

CenCal Health is the local Medi-Cal health plan that partners with over 1,500 local physicians, hospitals, and other providers in delivering health care services to nearly 232,000 members in its two-county service area. Marking 40 years of serving the most vulnerable, CenCal Health prioritizes cultivating community partnerships; advancing quality and health equity; expanding its service role and reach in the community; and organizing for impact and effectiveness. With a vision to be a trusted leader in advancing health equity so that the communities we serve thrive and achieve optimal health, CenCal Health invites the public to review its 2023-2025 Strategic Plan at

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CenCal Health Contact:

Nicolette Worley Marselian (805) 685-9525 ext.1993

Media Contact: Sheri Mobley  (213) 509-9816