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Mental health facility budget cuts are happening all over the region

Despite mass shootings and murder-suicides tied to people with serious mental health issues, states around the country continue to cut funding every year. Budgets cuts lead to reduced access to care–it's as simple as that. And with deplorable acts of violence taking place at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C., the elementary school in Newtown, and the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic here in Oakland, now seems like the worst possible time to cut the budget for people who truly need help.

Places like the Lawrence County Human Services Center (LCHSC) has lost over $600,000 from its budget over the past two fiscal years. In the last five years, the director at the LCHSC has had to freeze wages twice and reduce his staff by twenty five.

In addition to the LCHSC, Mercy Behavioral Health has had to close two facilities–one in the Northside that housed fifteen patients, and a more secure twelve-bed home in Beaver County that housed people with considerable mental illnesses. Mercy Behavioral Health (MBH) has also seriously reduced intake services for new patients who are seeking treatment. MBH now does close to 200 fewer patient assessments each month and have ended one of their social rehab programs that served anywhere between sixty and seventy people during any given month. 

Before budget cuts, Mercy Behavioral Health was sorting out 5400 phone calls per month from then current and possible would-be clients who were requesting service. Today, MBH averages 8000 calls a month. Agency officials say that this is a clear sign that budget cuts throughout the region have reduced care all over and so MBH's spectrum has broadened to well outside Allegheny County into much of the tri-state area.

Other mental health institutions in the region, such as the Mental Health Association of Washington County (MHAWC), has had a pay freeze going on for five years, They've also had to eliminate their client staffed help line that served as a functional outlet for live-in patients and others from the outside who needed someone with whom to talk. The executive director said it was one of the best programs they had and that she was able to see real results because of it. In addition to cutting the call line, the MHAWC has reduced the number of client outings it funds and has cut the hours for people who worked at their daily "drop in" center.

State Representative Thomas Caltagirone, a Democrat from Berks County in the eastern part of the state, says that the problem isn't hard to figure out. The minority chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said that there are politicians in Harrisburg and around the state who don't think twice when it comes to cutting out funds for people who suffer from serious mental illnesses. He said that the predominant attitude amongst his colleagues is that "They don't vote. They can't be of any help to me. Why should I care about them?"

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Pittsburgh region's mental health system under siege" 22 September 2013

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