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NV Budget Cuts: Unintended Consequences for ERs and Jails?

February 17, 2011

LAS VEGAS - Nevada lawmakers take up the Division of Mental Health/Developmental Services budget today, and some mental health professionals are expressing concerns that proposed cuts will push people with mental illness into local jails or emergency rooms and leave many without any form of treatment.

Kevin Quint, who chairs the Nevada Mental Health and Development Services Commission, says the budget moves would have wide-ranging effects on services that treat Nevadans suffering from depression and schizophrenia, programs that divert people with mental illness from prison, and those that provide treatment for substance abuse.

"What would happen if your son or daughter had a problem and you couldn't find help for them? It's not only frustrating, it's tragic, because some of these people end up dying, or they end up getting more ill. This costs the taxpayers a lot of money if we don't treat this."

The administration of Governor Brian Sandoval is expected to propose cuts in the 10- to 20-percent range, in keeping with his pledge not to raise taxes while trying to close a billion-dollar-plus budget gap. Lawmakers take up the Division of Mental Health/Developmental Services budget this morning, and Quint says, given the dire state of mental health services, he hopes they will think long and hard before imposing further cuts.

Christy McGill, director of the Healthy Counties Coalition of Lyon and Storey Counties, says there are trade-offs to be considered. She claims that if rural services are cut further, Nevada mental health patients will end up in jail cells waiting to be transported to distant hospitals, which means deputies aren't available to police the streets.

"One or two deputies then have to escort this person who is very ill - and they shouldn't be escorted anyway in a police car - to the hospital in Reno, and it takes hours. And sometimes that includes overtime, so the expense really starts to rise."

In all but the biggest cities, Kevin Quint says, further cuts will leave Nevadans suffering from mental health problems in very long lines for service.

"If you call up and say, 'I need help,' unless you are suicidal, or have some other really acute problem, it may be weeks before you're seen."

The joint assembly hearing takes place this morning at 8 a.m.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV