The Cost of Mental Health Funding Cuts

Saturday, March 12th, 2011 No Commented
Categorized Under: Mental health

Word of the shootings in Arizona has triggered speculation by many as to possible causes contributing to the tragedy. The continuing problem with violent rhetoric has been the center of speculation, but recently reporters have begun to turn to cuts in mental health services in Pima County Arizona.

Regardless of whether the cuts in services in the area that the shooter lived were a direct factor, it cannot be eliminated as a factor. Over the last year, the state of Arizona has sought to make up budget shortfalls by at least partially removing services that provided treatment for people suffering similar mental problems as the shooter. Forty Five percent of the recipients of mental health assistance supplied by state funds in Pima County had their help ended.

At the time the defenders of health care services warned that jumps in suicide rates, hospitalizations and public disturbances involving police. This has all come to pass since the cuts, with the result that the public is paying just as much as before, if not more, just at different places and times. It is estimated that 15,000 people had made use of services funded at least in part by the state of Arizona. Keep in mind that these are only people that sought the services – Mr. Loughner never sought services despite references to such services by the Community College he was attending. If he had, it is entirely likely that he would have been turned away, just as thousands of others are currently being turned away.

When I worked in IT, one of my jobs was at a bank headquarters providing support to VP’s and officers. In one case, a VP was given a big bonus for cutting costs for the bank. He had cancelled the printer maintenance agreement that the bank had in place with no replacement. A single service call to a single printer in one of their banks now cost more than the contract to cover all the printers in that same bank for a year. Sometimes saved money is not really saved, and that is what we are looking at with these cuts to mental health services.

The one positive about Arizona is that the state actually has laws in place that make it easier for people to petition courts to have an individual committed involuntarily. Unfortunately, the cuts in services are canceling out that very slight advantage, by denying services to those most in need.