Cuts would be Disastrous

With a looming deficit, Texas Governor Rick Perry wants the Texas Department of State Health Services to cut its proposed budget by ten percent. Houston’s oldest mental health education and advocacy organization says the cuts would be disastrous. Its urging state lawmakers to do what they can to prevent that from happening. Pat Hernandez has more.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking state-funded mental health services, thanks to the nation’s economic crisis. In Texas, lawmakers face a difficult financial challenge in the upcoming legislative session. They’re hoping to cut funding for programs, including 134-million to programs that serve people with mental illness. A bad move, according to Lillian Aguirre Ortiz. She directs public policy for Mental Health America of Greater Houston. She says in Harris County there are hundreds on the waiting list every day just to get access to mental health services:

If we have 900 people a day waiting for those services, we’ve got about 400-thousand adults in Harris County who have other mental illness issues and need services and the last statistic I saw was that 75-percent of the kids in Harris County who need assistance from the public mental health system aren’t getting that assistance. That just gives you an idea of what we already know we need.

Ortiz says the proposed cuts include 80-million that would be taken from the state’s publicly supported community health centers, which provide psychiatric care for the indigent or uninsured:

I don’t know how we adjust. I know that we’re gonna be seeing even more individuals with mental illness who go into mental health crisis, and who end up in our already overcrowded emergency rooms, law enforcement, who already have to deal with this a great deal more than probably they should be, so essentially it’s gonna end up being much more expensive and difficult in the long run for all of us.

She says people need to contact their state lawmakers not to rely on cutting programs that are essential:

Ganet Coleman: “The state budget reflects our priorities in what we care about.

Houston state representative Garnet Coleman:

If we’re funding historical courthouses in different counties over funding the needs of the mentally ill, it says what we as Texans value.

Coleman says funding for mental health services was cut tremendously in 2003 and that funding has yet to be restored:

There are other places where the budget can be cut to make up for the short fall, instead of putting a cut on top of a cut from 2003 that makes the situation even more dismal than it is now. In other words, cutting the money from 2003 will just compound that and drop to the very bottom in terms of our funding.

Coleman agrees with Ortiz of Mental Health America of Greater Houston that he and lawmers in Austin need to be contacted. He says the state has an obligation by the constitution to fund mental health.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF News.