March 9, 2011

Mental health cuts slash through safety net

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Sadly, it’s often a high-profile crime committed by someone with untreated or inadequately treated mental illness that puts the issue of spending for mental health care back in front of the public. But as headlines fade, so does public willingness to face the consequences of cutbacks on mental health spending. InvestigateWest, together with 10 other reporting centers around the country, drilled down to see what state budget cuts were doing to the mental health safety net.

What we found was disturbing: Beds closing at hospitals, short-term treatment centers, and group homes. Caseloads rising for already over-taxed mental healthcare workers. The population of people with mental illness in jails, emergency rooms and on the street escalating.

The way these stories make the news also frustrates those who have worked hard to erase the stigma of mental illness in society. A huge number of people live with mental illness, and almost none of them commit crimes. The vast majority are not violent. Many, however, do need help and support to stay in school, get jobs, and maintain healthy relationships.

In short, the cuts are quickly dismantling many of the gains that mental health advocates have fought for decades to establish — access to treatment, support and housing that helps people with mental illness stay well and able to function in their families and communities. As many of those we interviewed in our story pointed out, the short-term cost savings of the budget cuts likely will wind up costing taxpayers more over the long run.  You can see the national picture in this story from Amy Biegelsen at the Center for Public Integrity.

 The story also was published by The Huffington Post.

One thought on “Mental health cuts slash through safety net

  1. Have you investigated prisoners with mental health and social security/Medicare benefits being incarcerated to cost shift to SSA/Medicare mental health care while in prison custody? My son with Schizophrenia is in and out of jail in Seattle and other locations with constant stays in Tacoma that have nearly maxed out his mental health benefits under Medicare all while in custody. Social Services also lists his home state as OK so they avoid supplemental SSI which would keep him off the street when released, but, without causes homelessness and less SSA due to not having SSI to pay for Medicare premiums. In addition, it’s my understanding WA has a federal waiver to incarcerate homeless mentally ill patients and unless they are in a home or off the streets for one year they cannot leave the state. I’ve written congressman and WA governor and OK congressmen to no avail and appealed Medicare payments to Tacoma to no avail. In the meantime, my son is getting worse while spending most of his time in the hole.
    Thanks for your article and if you are able to respond and investigate into cost shifting prisoners to support Tacoma or Western State Hospital, etc.
    Kathy Moore