THE BLOG
03/21/2011 11:09 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bipartisan Budget Cut Fantasies: Illinois Mental Health Care Decline Is No Fairy Tale

Many Illinois Republican lawmakers, like State Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), a GOP budget "expert," are fond of loudly dismissing Illinois budget cuts made by Governor Pat Quinn as nothing but a mere budgetary mirage.

"The idea that spending has somehow gone done and there have been real cuts is straight out of Fantasy Land," Murphy said on July 1, 2010, the start of the current budget year.

A brief reality tour of the of Illlinois' mental health care system quickly reveals the state of Murphy's fantasy.

The Quinn Administration announced on March 10, 2011 that it would cut an additional $57 million from the Illinois Department of Human Services budget for the last three months of the fiscal year ending on June 30. Of that amount, $12 million will come from behavioral health care.

"There's still continuation of disproportionate cuts to funding that comes from the Department of Substance Abuse to the community of $7 million for the rest of this fiscal year, which only has less than four months to go, and an additional $5 million in cost reductions to community providers supported by the Department of Mental Health," said Community Behavioral Health Care Association of Illinois CEO Frank Anselmo.

"It'll be another impact on consumers importantly," Anselmo stated. "Between 10,000 to 30,000 people may lose care additionally, on top of the 70,000 who have already lost care."

Those 70,000 Illinois residents who have already lost care are no fantasy of Anselmo's imagination.

In fact, the actual budget cuts that have been imposed by Quinn have won Illinois another dubious distinction in its long-running budget crisis, snagging a spot among the top ten states in the nation for slashing funding for mental health care, a new report says.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the reduction of 15.1% from Illinois' mental health service budgets since fiscal year 2009 has earned Illinois the 10th slot in the top ten rankings. Kentucky, slicing 47.5% from its state budget, captured the number one ranking.

In total, states have cut $2.1 billion from their mental health budgets over the last three fiscal years according to a study from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors' Research Institute.

Since fiscal year 2009, which began July 1, 2009, Illinois has shed $113.7 million from community mental health care.

Murphy should describe the fantasy of Quinn's budget cuts to Tony Kopera. It would be a welcome fantasy.

Kopera, the president and CEO of Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, a community mental health care provider on the city's north side, bluntly states the budget reality.

"From the original 2009 contract, mental health has been reduced by $2,150,000. We have been unable to serve approximately 600 men, women and children and we have reduced services to many more," said Kopera, "more than I can bear to acknowledge."

"We have lost funding for Young Adult Services and ABLA, both services for children. There have also been reductions in funding for vocational services for adults, which makes no sense in today's economic environment."

Fantasy. Right.

Additionally, what is also not fantasy is that approximately 6% of the U.S. population has a serious mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, according to the federal National Institute of Mental Health. And in Illinois there are an estimated 421,000 live with serious mental illiness, says the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Meanwhile, Illinois provides care for only approximately 175,000 of those individuals.

In October 2010, a University of Chicago analysis of the state's mental health care system made this dismal observation, "We rank no better than 35th in per capita spending on community mental heatlh services despite being the 8th richest state in the country."

And unlike state mental institutions, community care actually saves the state money.

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.

Additionally, an April 2009 study by the Heartland Alliance Mid-America Institute on Poverty examined 177 individuals with mental illness living in local neighborhoods with supportive mental health services and found that there was a 39% reduction in the total cost of government services from pre- to post-supportive housing, saving $854,477.

In fact, the 177 individuals used $400,872 worth of state mental health hospital services before having supportive housing care and only $873 after having supportive housing services.

However, in next year's budget Quinn proposes cutting another $33 million from community health care, but leaving institutional care virtually untouched. That's like a family selling its Toyota Prious and keeping its GMC Yukon to save money.

When it comes to budget cut fantasies, at least it's least bipartisan.