Lawmakers debate mental health cuts |

Lawmakers debate mental health cuts

Associated Press Writer

Lawmakers challenged major cuts in the state’s mental health services on Thursday, saying they won’t agree to reductions that would jeopardize the health and safety of Nevada communities.

Gov. Jim Gibbons has proposed closing 11 of the state’s 21 rural mental health clinics, and increasing the number of patients per staff member at mental health facilities in Reno and Las Vegas.

While overall human services spending, about a third of the state’s general funds, for the coming two fiscal years is up, funding for mental health services would decrease 5 percent, to $473 million.

“Several of us took vows that we would never support reductions again,” said Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, referring to 1991 budget cuts to mental health. “Now we face the greatest reduction I’ve ever seen.”

“The mentally ill cannot complain. Their families are shy about complaining,” Coffin said during a joint Senate-Assembly budget subcommittee hearing. “Who is going to fight for the mentally ill? I am not going to support these cuts. I am going to follow through with my vow of 1991.”

Of the 21 rural mental health clinics, two already are closed, another nine would be closed by June 30, and services would be moved to regional hubs.

Harold Cook, head of the state Mental Health and Developmental Services Division, said nearly 500 clients would be effected by the closures, but would be provided rides to clinics that remain open or would be seen by staffers traveling to outlying areas.

“The suicide rates are very high in our rural areas,” said Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks. “And it’s a very isolated feeling when you are hundreds of miles from help.”

Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, pointed out that almost the entire population of clients live more than 25 miles away from the regional hubs.

“I’m not sure how this fiscally makes sense,” Gansert said. “I question whether we would really save money by closing these, because we’re going to have to travel to reach these individuals.”

Cook said that the travel costs already were factored in. Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, testified that the closures would affect outlying towns where the need for such services is growing. He said staffers would waste a lot of time traveling to see clients, and people in need of counseling already are winding up in jails.

“I can tell you that we need these rural clinics,” said Carpenter. “People say, what’s a terrible cowboy doing in these kind of social issues? But I have friends and people who need these services, and I want to do all I can to make sure they get them.”