Don't ignore effects of mental health cuts

Posted4/29/2012 1:00 AM

While the public generally wants to hear how lawmakers are spending less money, we would like to share some insights about what spending less for mental health services is doing to the public health safety net in Lake County.

Mental illness is not always easy to see. More often than not, patients receiving treatment for mental illness can function just fine. They stand in line at the grocery, take their children to school and sit next to you at work.


In fact, approximately 20,000 people in Lake County have a mental illness, with about 8,500 receiving treatment through the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center.

Community mental health programs, such as the health department's programs, help prevent higher costs for institutionalization. For every $1 spent, $5 is saved keeping patients out of higher cost services like hospitals, emergency rooms, jails and nursing homes.

For many years the Health Department has provided services to mental health patients whose most prevalent diagnosis is depression. Recently, more severe cases have come through our doors since area programs previously available to patients are gone due to lack of funding.

In addition to increased severity, caseloads have grown with Health Department psychiatrists now carrying about 800 patients in contrast to the industry standard of 500 patients. The consequences of closing mental health facilities and cutting funds for mental health treatment programs cannot be ignored.

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Not only will the strain on the public health safety net grow, but local hospital emergency rooms and police agencies will see increased calls and costs for dealing with mental health patients.

An emergency room visit could be upwards of $3,000 for a mental health patient.

We urge the public to recognize that the needs of those facing emotional challenges do not go away, even if the funding does.

Irene Pierce, Executive Director

Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center

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