Lawmakers told mental health cuts will mean loss of services

The legislative committee studying health issues was told Tuesday any cuts the governor orders in mental health budgets will result in reduced services.

"Everything we do is services," said Dr. Stuart Ghertner, head of Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services. "We are a services agency so there is no way if we cut that we don't cut services."

Carlos Brandenburg, director of Mental Health and Disabled Services, said he and his staff are looking at how they can reduce the impact of any cuts, but that there will be impacts to services.

In response to a question from committee Chairwoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, he said unlike the Department of Corrections, his secure facility for mentally ill offenders, Lakes Crossing, is not exempted from proposed budget cuts.

Leslie questioned how the governor could not exempt Lakes Crossing in Sparks, saying those patients are there under court orders as prisoners just like prison inmates.

"The answer is a bit higher up the food chain than me," said Brandenburg.

"It sure looks like the most vulnerable are going to suffer," she said.

The issues were raised during a discussion of the 22-bed addition to acute-care adult psychiatric beds in Southern Nevada. Those beds are scheduled to become available Jan. 1, but Brandenburg said that depends on whether the money to staff the center is cut to help reduce mental health budgets.

The beds will be immediately needed because the existing 25 beds at Westcare will lose their certification as acute-care psychiatric beds with the end of the year.

"Being an eternal optimist, I'm hoping the 22 beds will not be cut," he said.

Sen. Joe Heck, R-Las Vegas, himself a physician, said those beds are even more critical since the 2007 Legislature passed a law mandating that emergency room patients be seen in 30 minutes or less. He said that law was based in part on the ability of added beds to reduce the number of mental patients coming to emergency rooms.

Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, suggested the committee send Gov. Jim Gibbons a letter telling him how critical those beds are.

Leslie and Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said they need to also tell the governor how important it is to not cut mental health budgets, which have only gotten badly needed increases from the past two or three legislative sessions.

"We can't be going backwards," Horsford said, adding that reducing mental health services puts the burden of balancing the budget on some of Nevada's most vulnerable citizens.

Gibbons has asked agencies to prepare recommendations for cuts as deep as 8 percent because of lagging sales tax revenues. Director of Administration Andrew Clinger said unless things turn around by year's end, the state will need to cut $285 million from the two-year budget approved in June.

But Gibbons has not yet announced where he plans to make budget cuts.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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