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Cuts to mental health programs would ripple through communities

by Candace Adorka
May 06, 2010

Community mental health advocates are fighting cuts to their programs in the proposed Illinois budget for 2011. This $91 million hit would mean 25 percent less than the current appropriation.

The governor’s office is proposing cutting community mental health funding to help offset a $13 billion deficit. Community mental health services allow people with mental illness and substance abuse to receive treatment and other services while living in the community rather than being institutionalized.  

Ron Baiman is director of budget and policy analysis at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a non-profit, bi-partisan research and advocacy think tank. He said the budget cuts are not just numbers, they affect people.

“Many people will die because of these cuts,” Baiman said. “We have to be honest here. This has severe repercussions on very vulnerable individuals who need these services. These are families that are struggling, and if you cut these services, they are facing very drastic situations.”   

By way of example, Trilogy Behavioral Health Care in North Chicago depends on the state for about 80% of what it costs to take care of 500 clients each year. If the state cuts the $90.7 million from community mental health all 40 people receiving residential mental health services at Trilogy would have to find another place to call home. State-wide, that number increases to 74,000. John Mayes, Trilogy’s president and CEO, said the concern is these people will end up in state-run nursing homes.

“It’s very demoralizing,” Mayes said. “Would you get better locked in a basement and having your meals prepared and never being allowed to go outside? Or if you were allowed to go outside, you’re only allowed to go to certain places.

“You get a stipend of $25 to $30 dollars a month and that’s the only resource you have, so even if you did get better and wanted to leave, it would take you forever to save up for an apartment.  It’s just not a good place."

Like Trilogy, the Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, or C4, would also hve to turn away clients -- 750 adults and about 100 children would lose its  services.  

Bruce Seitzer, chief clinical officer at C4, said the pending cuts have already started taking hold at C4 with the clients that do not have Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance.

“We have already started to tell the unfunded clients that we see that we can no longer see them after July first,” Seitzer said.

In addition to the state-run nursing homes, Seitzer said there will be a ripple effect across the community.

“Without that support in the community,” he said, “they have to go somewhere and the services they end up getting are a lot more expensive.”

These services could be the nursing homes, emergency rooms or even the jail system.

 “The public as a whole needs to be better educated about what the impact of these things will be,” Seitzer said. “I think it is short-sighted when you don’t really understand the bigger picture and what the ripple effect will be. I think if people understand that, they might be more receptive to an income tax increase and help fill the budget deficit.”