The head of Nevada's Mental Health and Developmental Services division says only about half of the people in the state who need mental health treatment are getting it.
Carlos Brandenburg told legislators that if national averages hold, more than 86,000 Nevadans may have serious mental health problems. He said that means as many as 50,000 are not receiving help.
The most critical needs are in Southern Nevada because of the huge growth in that half of the state, he said. Specifically, he said the state badly needs a 150-bed psychiatric hospital planned for Las Vegas.
Without it, he said, psychiatric patients will continue to clog emergency medical units in Southern Nevada. Compounding that problem is the recent closure of 90 private psychiatric beds in the Las Vegas area.
"That makes for tremendous pressure on the public system to absorb that," said Brandenburg.
He said national standards call for at least 33 psychiatric beds for every 100,000 in the population, but Nevada has just four per 100,000. He said the state would have to add 511 beds to come up to the minimum.
He said Nevada suicidal or homicidal psychiatric patients being held in emergency room or hospital beds must now wait more than 48 hours to transfer to the Southern Nevada psychiatric facility.
Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said the shortage is creating a severe impact on the emergency system's ability to help people who are seriously injured or ill.
Brandenburg said the new hospital in Southern Nevada will be built from the same plans used to build the Dini-Townsend building recently opened in Reno. He said he hopes to be able to open it before the end of the coming two-year budget cycle.
"They say if it ain't broke, don't fix it," said subcommittee chairman Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas. "Well, this is broke."
Brandenburg said things are much better in the north -- especially since a new psychiatric hospital opened in Reno.
"There are still waits, but not as drastic as Las Vegas because the growth hasn't been as much," he said.
But Rawson questioned why, if the situation in Southern Nevada is that serious, budget cuts included the four medical school psychiatric residencies.
"You know that's going to raise a red flag," he told Brandenburg.
"I know that," he replied, but quickly told Rawson he is working with the university system to try restore the residency positions.