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A National Mental Health Funding Crisis, And Pat Quinn's Budget Isn't Helping

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A national mental health funding crisis is unfolding and Governor Pat Quinn's new budget is contributing Illinois' share.

According to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, state mental health care spending fell 4% between 2008 and 2009 and it appears to have fallen yet again in 2010, this time nearly 5% compared to 2009.

"States are chipping away at their already very fragile mental health system," says Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness, which advocates for improved mental health care. "More people will be unable to find even basic services that allow them to stay out of the hospital or involvement with police."

Additionally, state mental health budgets may sink by 8% or more in 2011.

These cuts are coming as a recent national survey showed that the economy crisis is battering the mental health of Americans, with the unemployed four times as likely as those with jobs to report symptoms of severe mental illness.

In 2008, U.S. states spent $36 billion on mental health services for 6.4 million people. Of the total, approximately $17 billion came from Medicaid, $500 million from federal grants, and the rest state general revenues.

Here in Illinois, Quinn this year originally proposed to cut $90 million from mental health care, but reduced that amount to $35 million. Still, the cut will eliminate services for more than 70,000 people, including 4,200 children, said Frank Anselmo, CEO of the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois.

"Governor Quinn's cuts come as Illinois is struggling with a court settlement to transfer 4,500 severely mentally disabled patients out of nursing homes and into community residential facilities following a series of sexual assaults and physical abuse of elderly residents," said Anselmo. "This transfer will be impossible to accomplish without the money."

Quinn's cuts and the national budgetary downdraft are also being keenly felt at Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, or C4, located on Chicago's north lakefront, where the state this year slashed the agency's contract by $400,000, and currently owes the agency $1,750,000 in overdue bills.

"For Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, the difference in funding for the indigent needing mental health and substance use services between FY 2007 and FY 2011 is down over $1,800,000," said Tony Kopera, C4's president.

"Last year we were forced to stop services for hundreds of adult clients and turned away 50-60 per week and eliminated care for about 50 children," said Kopera. "This year, I expect the number that we turn away each week to increase, perhaps to 100 per week."

The battering and financial mugging of Illinois' mental health system is particularly painful for one high-ranking Illinois House lawmaker.

Deputy House Majority Leader Lou Lang (D-Chicago), the former Chairman of the House Mental Health Reform Committee, said:

The Illinois budget crisis is engulfing multiple state services and is especially savaging people struggling to recover from mental illness. After working for so many years to improve mental health care in Illinois, this situation grieves me terribly. I know many House Republicans share my concerns regarding mental health. Unfortunately, when they were given the chance to increase state revenues to pay for these services, they voted no.

C4's Kopera also noted the most damaging cut is that which denies care to those are ineligible for Medicaid funding.

"People will also be turned away from hospitals and perhaps find themselves in jails, again denied treatment, or local police will be asked to take them to state hospitals or nursing homes," said Kopera.

The fiscal irony of state budget cuts on community mental providers that ultimately push individual into nursing homes is not lost on Anselmo.

"A 2010 report by the Illinois Human Services Commission found that Illinois provided community-based mental health services to 175,000 people at a cost of $390 million in FY 2010, half the cost of $640 million for only 15,000 nursing home beds for people with disabilities who do not require daily nursing," said Anselmo.

The state's funding priorities are deeply vexing to Kopera.

"I am frustrated and angered by the shortsightedness of the restrictions of care to unfunded Illinois residents," he said.

Quinn's budget cut mental health beyond fat, it gouged bone. And it was the Illinois House Republicans who handed him the knife.

(Note: David Ormsby is a former spokesman for the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois)