Mental health cuts would cost more than they save

Opponents, including several lawmakers, said Thursday the governor's proposed cuts to mental health services would wind up costing much more than they save.

The proposed budget includes elimination of northern and southern triage centers as well as state funding for mental health courts.

"There are many consequences to this," said Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno.

She said without the proper referral to programs, those people end up in emergency rooms or jail, costing much more than the programs which keep them out.

"If the centers close, these people don't go away," she told Harold Cooke, head of Mental Health and Disability Services. "They either go to jail or to prison. You can't cut everything and think it's going to be fine."

The centers receive patients, assess them and direct them to the proper treatment programs. Dan Musgrove representing Westcare, North Las Vegas and Valley Health Systems said without state money, hospitals and local governments can't afford to keep those centers open.

Without the triage centers, he said police and emergency medical responders will have no choice but to take patients acting out to the emergency rooms or to jail. Musgrove said those centers handle about 5,000 people a year.

"It's going to have a tremendous impact on the ERs and jails," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said cutting those services might also violate the state constitutional requirement to provide for the mentally ill and disabled.

"We can't dismantle the community-based components and expect the public components to work," he said.

Reno Police Department Officer Patrick O'Bryan said it's taken five years to build up the triage centers and those community-based programs and that dismantling them now would be a severe setback.

"We try to change the way we do business," he said. "It's taken five or six years to bring these things online."

He said handling a mentally ill patient at a triage center costs a tenth of the $1,500 a day it costs in an emergency room. He said his research shows that just five individuals in the Reno area cost government some $800,000 over the past year.

Closing the centers, he said, puts the police "in the eye of the storm."

"I don't have the luxury of saying we won't serve you," he said. "The hospitals, ERs don't have the ability to say they won't serve. The idea that we are going to avoid these costs is ludicrous," he said. It's going to pass through in another way.

Clark County District Judge William Voy said the same is true for the drug courts.

"There's a direct correlation between mental health services or the lack thereof and public safety," he said. "The budget as proposed is dangerous to our community."

Washoe District Judge Peter Breen said it costs more than twice as much to send a person to prison or jail than to treat them in drug court and provide the necessary mental health services.


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