As a retired mental health care professional, I am worried about all the folks that have become more vulnerable due to a lack of services. Slashing clinic, outpatient and services to homeless people does not mean the problems go away. People in the midst of a mental health crisis land in jail, in shelters or on the street if they cannot stay at home. They will not go away because we ignore or neglect them. The costs in other forms will remain.
I believe that the mark of a nation is how it takes care of its most vulnerable citizens. Wall Street is doing just fine, thank you very much. Not so for far too many others.
By KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press
DENVER – State budget writers looking for cash to balance the books have stripped a cumulative $1.8 billion from mental health services over the last 2 1/2 years, putting the public at risk as the mentally ill crowd emergency rooms and prisons, according to the nation’s largest mental health advocacy group.
The Washington-based National Alliance on Mental Illness tallied state budget cuts to mental health services between 2008 and today and found that 32 states and Washington, D.C., cut funding just as economic stressors such as layoffs and home foreclosures boosted demand for services.
In many states, the picture is likely to get uglier for those relying on state mental services. Starting this summer, some $87 billion in federal stimulus money for Medicaid assistance to the states starts drying up. Because virtually all Medicaid-funded mental health services are optional, states projecting another couple years of budget deficits are likely to chop mental health services further.
Arizona cut mental health services more than $57 million between 2009 and 2010, reducing or cutting services for about 14,000 people. Less well known have been dramatic cuts in dozens more states, which have removed hospital beds and shuttered outpatient services. States have cut staff, reduced clinic hours and trimmed add-on services such as transportation and housing assistance credited for keeping the mentally ill in treatment and off the streets.
Eleven states simply treat fewer people. States with a net reduction in both inpatients and community settings between 2007 and 2009 were Alabama, Alaska, California, Idaho, Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming. Those numbers come from a federal accounting and are the most recent available; NAMI’s report notes that those reductions were made “before the worst of the state budget cuts.”
Texas is debating an additional 20 percent cut next year, which would leave some 2,800 youth and adults in eight central Texas counties without services. Tennessee may close community health programs and drug abuse treatment facilities to save $15 million. Massachusetts may eliminate a quarter of the beds in state psychiatric hospitals. And in Kansas, nine of 27 Community Mental Health Centers may have to close their doors.
Mental health advocates insist that cuts don’t save money in the long run.
Cuts can strike even harder in rural areas, where mental health services were spotty to begin with.
Mental health advocates hope that the federal health care overhaul taking effect after 2014 will help add services for the mentally ill — but their hopes are dim that things will get better before then.
“It’s a bleak time across the board,” said Sarah Steverman, director of state policy for Mental Health America, an advocacy group that did not work on the NAMI study.