Funding sought for mental health in Las Vegas |

Funding sought for mental health in Las Vegas

The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS – Nevada health officials are proposing a 24-hour mental health urgent care center in Las Vegas, part of a $7.5 million plan to divert people with mental health problems from prisons and jails.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports the proposal by the Nevada Division of Mental Health and Development Services was submitted to the governor’s office as an “item of special consideration” outside the agency’s basic $294 million, two-year spending plan.

It follows a draft report earlier this year that found a large percentage of people incarcerated in jails and prisons suffer from mental illness.

“The number of mentally ill individuals involved with the criminal justice system and detained in jails and prisons continues to grow in Clark County, Nevada and nationwide,” according to the five-page draft report obtained by the newspaper.

“This significant increase is attributed in most part to a severe lack in resources available for proper and timely case-management of such unfortunate chronically ill individuals.”

The report showed 17 percent of those taken into custody in Washoe County last year suffered from mental illness. The percentage in Carson City was nearly 23 percent.

In Clark County, roughly 10 percent of the more than 55,000 people jailed in 2011 had a history of mental illness though it notes tourists visiting Las Vegas could have diluted the result.

Statewide, health authorities estimate the rate of mental illness could be as high as 20 percent.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has called on state agencies to hold the line on funding requests, will release his budget plan Jan. 16.

Richard Whitley, administrator for mental health division, called the 24-hour urgent care facility “a priority” and said it would save costs in the long run. Nevada also will push to do better at getting reimbursed by the federal government for Medicaid-eligible services, he said.

Mental health clinics with limited hours have helped decrease the number of mentally ill seeking treatment in emergency rooms, but a 24-hour facility in populous Clark County could provide better direct care, Whitley said.

Sandoval already has said his budget will include extending about $600 million in temporary taxes that would otherwise expire June 30 to help meet the state’s funding needs. He also has endorsed expanding Medicaid eligibility as called for under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act.

The Republican governor said the move would save the state general fund $17 million because those costs would be picked up by the federal government.

State Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said she hopes Sandoval will reinvest those state dollars in mental health programs.

Smith, named chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, said that since 2007 Nevada has cut mental health funding by $80 million. It’s time to bolster mental health services to help more Nevadans and keep them out of hospitals and jails, she said.

“We aren’t able to provide enough services now,” Smith said. “It’s sort of typical of what ends up happening when you have to cut budgets. You cut the programs that are cheapest and very effective because you have to be able to provide the crisis treatment.

“But some of these programs also are the most cost-effective.”