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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Columns

Perry orders mental health cuts


Faced with a large deficit, Texas state leaders have proposed to eliminate $134 million this week from its mental health programs.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) recently sent out a proposal with budget cuts ordered by Gov. Perry and other state leaders, cutting its current budget by 15 percent. While there may be financial hardships to come, the state’s leadership must consider the consequences of under funding the mental health programs. With fewer funds for these programs, many individuals will go untreated, causing disturbances in prisons as well as emergency rooms. Law enforcement agents will spend more time responding to mental health crises. The budget cuts will leave the most vulnerable mental health patients with limited services.

A total of $80 million will be taken away from the funding for Texas’ community mental health centers. With less money to provide services, psychiatric facilities will give less treatment to the many uninsured and poor patients. The mental health cuts proposed will leave more than 20,000 individuals without treatment. According to the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County (MHMRA), more than 900 individuals are put onto a waiting list each day for mental health treatments for disorders like schizophrenia. If this proposal issued by the DSHS is approved, numbers on the waiting list will increase substantially.

Approximately 75 percent of children within the community in need of treatment do not receive services. This may be why nearly half of the children diagnosed with a mental illness are held in the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department. Five of the state’s psychiatric hospitals will have a reduction in bed capacity during this time. These facilities are unable to accept many patients due to a lack of available beds. With an additional $44 million slash in budget cuts, it will become a challenge for many individuals to be admitted into these hospitals.

The lack of space in Texas’ psychiatric hospitals has contributed to the rise in inmates at the Harris County Jail houses. An estimated 80 inmates are being held in the Harris County jail each day, waiting for a bed space. As a result, Harris County jail became the largest provider of state mental health services. This overall reduction in mental health treatment services will burden Texans heavily. These services have helped keep people stabilized and given the poor and uninsured the ability to pay for treatment. If this safety net is removed, everyone will undergo more hardships to come.

The 2011 legislature will review the mental health cuts and give the final say. As psychiatric facilities and mental health centers are put on edge, mentally ill patients are likely to prepare for alternatives to these budget cuts. For the many individuals with mental illnesses, they have to find treatment elsewhere. With reduced funding, mental health services will decline, causing disastrous consequences for Texans in the short and long run.

Paulina Lam is a communication junior and can be reached at [email protected]


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