Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Misguided austerity policies" by conservatives lead to people falling through the cracks

I've written before about how right-wing ideology in Wyoming is driving budget cuts for mental health care. After another senseless massacre, we need to take a serious look about the lack of funding and services for those diagnosed with some form of mental illness. States have cut $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD). Wyoming will join their ranks in 2013.

We recently had a case in Casper, Wyoming, where a young man murdered his father and his father's girlfriend and then committed suicide. No guns were involved; lethal weapons in this case where a compound bow and a hunting knife. The young man drove all the way from Connecticut to Casper to do this deed. That takes planning. The deed itself takes rage and focus and something else that we can't name.

What's at stake? Lynn Parramore writes in Alternet:
Thanks to the misguided austerity policies embraced by conservatives, more people are falling through the cracks. There are not enough psychiatric beds, treatment services or community support programs. Medication is expensive, and insurance companies routinely leave patients inadequately covered (the Affordable Care Act will hopefully address this problem by finally putting psychiatric illnesses on par with other health issues).
Mental healthcare workers have been laid off. Vulnerable people are neglected until their situation becomes acute – often after it’s too late. Many are incarcerated, often subjected to solitary confinement because prison officials don’t know what to do with them. Others are homeless –- as many as 45 percent of the people living on the streets suffer from mental illness.
"Misguided austerity policies" have caused the Republican-dominated Wyoming Legislature and Governor Mead to slash the state's healthcare budget. Let's hope they're prepared for the consequences.

Gallatin County, Montana, borders Yellowstone. Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin speaks about some of those budget-cutting consequences in the March 22, 2012, report to Congress by the NASMHPD:
Police forces are experiencing a significant increase in psychiatric emergencies, which is a direct result of mental health funding reductions. In Gallatin County, Montana — an area twice the size of Rhode Island, encompassing Bozeman and part of Yellowstone National Park — Sheriff Brian Gootkin oversees 48 deputies. He said his force is “experiencing a significant increase” in psychiatric emergencies, which he said was a “direct result of mental health funding reductions” and that his officers have become an involuntary component of the State of Montana’s emergency psychiatric response teams.


He pleaded to federal lawmakers in Helena and in Congress to stop cutting funds for community-based mental health services. He reiterated that people in psychiatric crisis need to receive community-based mental health services staffed by licensed professionals — not in the back of a patrol car.

Sheriff Gootkin’s fear is that if we continue to go down this dangerous path, both public safety in Gallatin County and access to emergency medical care will be compromised. He concluded, “The result will have a huge impact, not only on people with mental illness, but the entire community.”

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