Conservative Nevada lawmaker plans mental health bill

Lawmakers are increasingly calling for improvements in Nevada's overwhelmed mental health system, and Gov. Kenny Guinn is expected to support such changes in his State of the State address on Monday.

Even Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, a fiscal conservative, said he plans to introduce a $50 million bill to aid the state's overworked system.

Beers said he has long struggled with the "humanity" of handing out medication to mentally ill people and forcing them to deal with their problems outside of an institution, often on the streets. He added hospital emergency rooms are increasingly clogged up with mentally ill patients.

"The pragmatic result of what we have today is mentally healthy citizens cannot get emergency room treatment in a reasonable amount of time," he said.

Beers said he would work with state officials to determine how the money would be best spent. It could be reinvested in the state's planned 150-bed psychiatric hospital, which is set to open in 2006, or the state could work with private companies that provide treatment, he said.

Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, who has been working with Democrats on a mental health package, countered that Beers should have done more to address the mental health crisis two years ago.

Instead, Beers voted against a 24 percent increase in mental health funding in the 2003 legislative session, Buckley complained.

Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said Democrats are looking at solutions such as creating triage centers at mental health facilities so that mental health patients don't have to go through emergency rooms. Other proposals include more beds in public hospitals and working with private companies so they add more beds in their facilities, she said.

Guinn's spokesman, Greg Bortolin, said the governor has kept a close eye on the issue and will talk about it Monday, when he gives his State of the State address and unveils his budget proposal.

"When everybody sees the budget on Monday I think mental health advocates will be very pleased," Bortolin said.

Carlos Brandenburg, the state Mental Health and Development Services administrator, sought a $46 million increase in mental health spending in the budget he submitted to Guinn.


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