If tax initiatives are approved in the November election, mental-health officials, advocates and consumers want the governor to protect human-service programs and make cuts in other areas.
Panelists discussing mental-health issues at the Utah Issues conference Thursday said the governor should recommend through his budget that the Legislature avoid cutting human-service programs such as mental health, health, Medicaid, Aid to Families with Dependent Children and others, and instead cut non-life-threatening areas such as roads and parks.Utah Issues, an advocate organization for low-income Utahns, will use the recommendation - and those reached in other discussion groups - to set its priorities for the coming year. The recommendations will also be passed on to lawmakers and state officials.
Although the discussion focused on what the group called the "disastrous effects" of the initiatives, panelists agreed that the state's mental-health system already has serious problems. Two mental-health clients told personal stories of calling crisis lines when they were suicidal or panicked, and being told to take an aspirin or try to relax. "You have to make some kind of desperate gesture" to get help, they said.
"It's a serious problem," Jan Harding, administrator of the Utah Alliance for the Mentally Ill, said. "We have suicides that take place because there are no services in place when they need them. In effect, they say, `Go home. After you slice your arms or take pills, call us.' "
Two weeks ago at University Hospital, staff members were moving patients around at 1 a.m. to try to find beds for four mentally ill people who were going to - or had already - harmed themselves, said Mary Fraser, associate director of the State Division of Mental Health.
If further cuts are made in already tight budgets, Craig Brown, deputy director of Salt Lake Valley Mental Health, said, important programs would probably still exist, but they would be much harder to get into and would help fewer people. Experts estimate that Utah provides mental-health services for less than half of those who need it.
According to a list prepared by the group, reductions in mental-health budgets will show up as increases in other budgets, adversely affecting homelessness, increasing institutionalization and causing more deaths.
Increased costs would result from incarceration, attorneys fees, court and jail costs, probation and parole, juvenile referrals, foster care, victimization, child care and adult protective services.