University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law is launching an innovative program to help local governments make transformative changes to mental health services with a $5 million grant from the state’s Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission.

McGeorge public policy faculty will work with behavioral health departments and agencies in counties throughout California. The goal is to help local agencies build the capacity to reduce homelessness, incarceration and hospitalizations among people with untreated mental health conditions.

“Local governments often struggle to manage the complex mental health services vulnerable populations need,” said Adjunct Professor James Mayer. “We will be working directly with people on the front lines to help them develop the skills and tools they need to make substantive changes that are focused on recovery.”

Mayer, who teaches system change in McGeorge’s public policy program, will serve as the fellowship’s interim director. Mayer’s public service efforts in California earned him the National Public Service Award in 2021—one of the most prestigious professional awards in the country.

The program at McGeorge is being developed in collaboration with Third Sector Capital Partners, the California Institute for Behavioral Health Solutions and the Stanford University Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.

The work is intended to advance the goals of the Mental Health Services Act passed by California voters in 2004. The legislation calls for sweeping changes to the state’s mental health system, which are urgently needed.

Nearly 2 million adults in California who are eligible for public mental health services say they have received no treatment or support, according to a 2020 report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

The commission’s Executive Director Toby Ewing said the program “will become an essential component of the state’s efforts to reduce the negative outcomes of untreated mental health conditions—especially in low-income communities of color that lack adequate and culturally competent care.”

The fellowship team will develop a program this spring with county and community leaders and begin working with the first pilot cohort of participating counties in the fall of 2023.

McGeorge’s public administration and policy programs will expand in scope and hire additional faculty as it develops the program.

“The fellowship will benefit our students who are earning graduate degrees in public policy and administration,” Mayer said. “This program allows McGeorge to strengthen its faculty expertise and deepen our connections to public agencies, which will help students secure better jobs.”

Since the public policy program launched in 2015, McGeorge has awarded more than 150 Master of Public Administration and Master of Public Policy degrees with an emphasis on state and local government.

The McGeorge School of Law has been awarding juris doctorate degrees for nearly a century, with many of its alumni working in or closely with government agencies. McGeorge’s Capital Law and Policy Center and Capital Lawyering Concentration provides practice experience including work with clients on all aspects of policymaking.

The law school grant is one of several major grants recently awarded to Pacific, including $6 million to expand the Master of Social Work program (the largest of 23 awarded by the state), $2.5 million for the School of Health Sciences to expand underrepresented students’ access to health professions and more than $1 million for faculty research on galaxy formation, climate change impacts on water and insecticide resistance of mosquitoes.

“We are making a concerted effort to expand sponsored research at Pacific and are seeing results with some of the largest grants the university has ever received,” said David Ojcius, assistant provost for research and scholarship. “These awards are a reflection of the high-quality work our faculty is doing to address pressing issues of our region and society.”