You've seen them on the late movie, lurking in the shadows - psychotic killers whose only release is murder and mayhem. If someone else is home, you watch. If not, you turn the channel and instantly extinguish their presence.

Yet dealing with Utah's mentally ill - the real-life psychotics and schizophrenics - doesn't happen with the flip of a dial. They're here to stay, and though most don't fit the late-night movie stereotype, many more of them may be out wandering the streets if new state Medicaid system guidelines take effect as scheduled on July 1.According to one mental health official, the situation is so critical that it has all of the makings of a horror movie come to life.

Jan Harding, administrator with the Utah Alliance for the Mentally Ill, said she has documented cases where mental patients were prematurely let out into the community. "In several of those instances, there were deaths because of it. (his situation) is a horror movie."

Harding joined several colleagues Friday in a press conference urging state officials to rework a proposed change in how Medicaid will pay for inpatient treatment of the mentally ill. Scheduled to take effect next month, the change would mean inpatient care for the chronically mentally ill could be limited to eight days.

In a statement released during the meeting, officials say the change means that: "Not only the mentally ill will suffer but also the community because most of the mentally ill at these centers are there because of civil commitment, which requires that they are a danger to themselves or others. . . . In essence, we would be turning mentally ill people to the streets who are either suicidal or a threat to the community."

Several family members of mental patients spoke out against the change, saying only professionals - not bureaucrats - know when a patient is stable enough to be released from the hospitals that care for them under the Medicaid program.

Robert Burgoyne, president of the Utah Psychiatric Association, said the problem is inadequate funding. He said the alliance realizes the state is tight on money, but the cost of caring for the mentally ill "has to come out of someone's budget. If the jails end up housing them, they're not getting the treatment they need."

Because a shortage of eligible care facilities exists, Burgoyne suggested the state cut funding for less critical programs like marriage counseling and adolescent care, and use the money to contract with private hospitals for care. One parent of a schizophrenic child summed up the frustration faced by people affected by the proposed changes. "The streets are filled with those whose families cannot stand the financial and emotional strain. . . . How bad do things have to get before the community and the state recognize the needs of these unfortunates, who lack the competence to speak for themselves?"