State mental health services take heavy hit in proposed cuts
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.”