State mental health ser­vices take heavy hit in pro­posed cuts

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By An­drea Ball and corrie Maclag­gan

More than 20,000 Tex­ans who re­ceive state­funded mental health ser­vices would lose care un­der bud­get cuts pro­posed this week by the Depart­ment of State Health Ser­vices.

The agency — act­ing on an or­der from state lead­ers to re­duce its 2012-13 bud­get by 10 per­cent — re­leased a list this week of $245.9 mil­lion in pro­posed cuts. And while ser­vices across the agency were af­fected, mental health pro­grams took the hard­est hit — $134 mil­lion in pro­posed cuts.

A pro­posed $80 mil­lion cut to the state’s 39 pub­licly sup­ported com­mu­nity mental health cen­ters, which pro­vide low-cost psy­chi­atric care for poor or unin­sured peo­ple, would elim­i­nate ser­vices to 11,000 adults and 2,000 chil­dren across Texas, ac­cord­ing to the agency.

An­other $44 mil­lion in cuts to five state psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tals — in Austin, Ter­rell, San

An­to­nio, Rusk and Wi­chita Falls — would elim­i­nate 183 beds, or 12 per­cent of their to­tal ca­pac­ity. Austin State Hos­pi­tal would lose 24 of its 299 beds.

A pro­posed $10 mil­lion re­duc­tion to psy­chi­atric cri­sis ser­vices would cut care to 6,000 peo­ple.

“That’s just hor­ri­fy­ing,” said Lynn Lasky Clark, pres­i­dent of the ad­vo­cacy group Mental Health Amer­ica of Texas. “These cuts are go­ing to be ter­ri­ble for adults and kids that need ser­vices.”

The pro­posed re­duc­tions stem from a pro­jected $15 bil­lion to $18 bil­lion state bud­get short­fall in 2012-13. Ear­lier this year, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David De­whurst and House Speaker Joe Straus di­rected all state agen­cies to cut 5 per­cent from their 2010-11 bud­gets. Agen­cies were then or­dered to find ways to cut an ad­di­tional 10 per­cent over the next two years.

“We painstak­ingly combed through our bud­gets and had to make some very tough de­ci­sions, but this is not the end,” said Car­rie Wil­liams, spokes­woman for the Depart­ment of State Health Ser­vices.

The Leg­is­la­ture, which con­venes in Jan­uary, will make the fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion on the cuts.

Un­der the pro­posal, other health depart­ment pro­grams that would see cuts in­clude Chil­dren with Spe­cial Health Care Needs, which pro­vides money for treat­ment and med­i­ca­tion for chil­dren with a va­ri­ety of health prob­lems and for peo­ple of any age who have cys­tic fi­bro­sis. The pro­gram’s bud­get would be cut by $24.1 mil­lion, and it would serve 837 fewer peo­ple. In 2009, the pro­gram helped about 2,300 peo­ple.

EMS trauma care re­im­burse­ments to hos­pi­tals and grants to lo­cal EMS providers would drop by $25 mil­lion, and child­hood im­mu­niza­tion pro­grams would lose $7.5 mil­lion.

The pro­posed cuts fol­low two leg­isla­tive ses­sions in which state lead­ers boosted fund­ing for mental health care. Those in­creases helped the state — which is ranked 49th in coun­try for its per-capita spend­ing on mental health ser­vices — make up some of the ground lost in 2003. That year, faced with a $10 bil­lion bud­get deficit, leg­is­la­tors cut $170 mil­lion from mental health ser­vices.

Cut­ting mental health ser­vices won’t save the state money in the long run, some mental health ad­vo­cates say. Peo­ple with se­ri­ous, un­treated psy­chi­atric ill­nesses of­ten end up in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem or in hos­pi­tals, which cost more than the out­pa­tient treat­ment that may be cut, said Robin Peyson, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of NAMI Texas, a mental health ad­vo­cacy group.

Steven Sch­nee, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mental Health and Mental Re­tar­da­tion Author­ity of Har­ris County, said that the pro­posed cuts would lead to an in­crease in the home­less pop­u­la­tion.

“Can you imag­ine treat­ing peo­ple with di­a­betes like this?” he asked.

But Michael Quinn Sul­li­van, pres­i­dent of Em­power Tex­ans, which ad­vo­cates for limited govern­ment, said it’s not re­al­is­tic to say that any area of the bud­get is sa­cred.

“No one wants their pet projects cut,” he said, “but at the end of the day, some­one’s pet projects will be cut.”

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