Lawmaker: advocates must unite in seeking mental health funds | NevadaAppeal.com

Lawmaker: advocates must unite in seeking mental health funds

BRENDAN RILEY, Associated Press

The head of a legislative panel studying Nevada’s mental health services warned Friday that advocates who provide those services must unite in seeking more state funding.

Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said budget cuts, to help reduce a $300 million-plus revenue shortfall at the state level, will make it tough for the advocates to seek more funding during the 2003 Legislature.

Townsend, whose committee heard grim reports about growing demands on both private and public programs, said “turf wars” over available funding should be avoided.

“It’s probably in everyone’s best interests, whatever group is developing a strategic plan, that we include all the stakeholders no matter who they are,” he said.

If there isn’t a unified front at the Legislature and different interest groups make rival bids for funds, “you’re going to go to the end of line,” he added.

Townsend also encouraged the mental health program advocates to be innovative in describing to Senate and Assembly budget committees the problems and potential solutions that would work in Nevada.

“If we just keep singing the same old song, that mental health needs more money, the money committees are going to hand you your lunch — and they’ll charge you for it,” he said.

The longtime advocate of improved mental health services also encouraged those at his panel’s hearing to get support from business, including casinos, for the programs and services they’re trying to improve.

“We’re not selling this as well as we could,” he said. “Once we get some of these things in place, we need the business community involved without question.”

“If you don’t, this is an exercise in futility and all we’ve done is talk to the same old choir.”

Townsend commented after hearing reports about difficulties in maintaining adequate mental health services throughout Nevada, problems in dealing with the homeless, hassles in getting reimbursed through Medicaid for providing such services, and other issues.

At the state level, various programs were hurt as a result of Gov. Kenny Guinn’s recent call for 3 percent budget cuts to help reduce a budget deficit.

In talking last week about $47 million in budget cuts now needed atop earlier money-preserving moves, Guinn said $16 million of that must come from the state Human Resources Department which oversees most of the state’s mental health services.

Nearly of the 44 layoffs outlined by Guinn as part of the savings effort are in mental health staffing.

And the state cuts result in additional reductions in federal funds, Townsend said, adding, “It’s not a happy situation. But it’s reality.”