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Tennessee's Mental Health: Threatened by Proposed Cuts?

December 16, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee lawmakers have cut more than $16 million from the state mental health budget in the last three years. Advocates of those programs say that has left many families without critical services - and they fear that additional cuts proposed for the coming year will mean the loss of even more programs.

Rikki Harris, a spokesperson for Tennessee Voices for Children, is convinced that thousands of families who use the services of their statewide Family Support Network will suffer.

"This is one of huge concern to us. We served 61,000 people across the state of Tennessee in that program alone last year."

Harris says Tennessee Voices for Children runs several youth and community-based programs that would likely have to be shut down if further cuts are made. Tennessee officials say federal funding could be decreased by as much as 30 percent in 2012, with a significant amount of those cuts in the Health Department, as the one-time federal funds expire.

When community-based mental health programs are cut, says Harris, families are forced to rely on local police departments when a crisis develops. Many times, those individuals are taken to local hospitals. She adds emergency rooms can't turn people away but often have nowhere to put them, so patients may be sent to more expensive state facilities.

"We don't want 'em there; that's not effective. That's proven ineffective for certain issues that can be managed in the home."

The mental health system in Tennessee is not without problems, says Harris - but in her view, there is no significant way to improve it if funding continues to be cut.

Bo Bradshaw, Public News Service - TN