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Shortsighted Senate “belt-tightening” puts people with mental illness at risk and multiplies taxpayer expenses

Over the past 20 years, Minnesota has created a carefully woven network of community-based mental-health services that replaced expensive institutional care.

M. Tim Burkett
M. Tim Burkett

Over the past 20 years, Minnesota has created a carefully woven network of community-based mental-health services that replaced expensive institutional care. Now this network is in danger of being seriously damaged — or destroyed — by the Health and Human Services bill that passed last week in the Senate.

This bill aims to cut nearly $50 million from community mental-health services. Let’s be frank: The destruction of this system will be at a phenomenal cost to you, the taxpayer.
 
A key component of this network is our community’s mental-health crisis teams and crisis residences, which are available 24/7 to anyone in need in the metropolitan area. The Senate bill totally eliminates state support for these critical services, which is certain to result in their demise.

In 2010, People Incorporated‘s three crisis residences served more than 2,500 people at one-third the cost of emergency-room care. Where would these people go without access to these crisis residences — homelike places that serve as a humane, inexpensive alternative to locked hospital wards? Some would die — the majority of our crisis clients have suicidal thoughts. Others would deluge our hospital emergency rooms, and would likely be sent on to other hospitals in greater Minnesota or even out of state, which is not only inhumane, but also even more costly.

A costly dismantling
We know that Minnesota’s budget deficit will require thoughtful reforms in which mental-health services are part of the solution. But a reduction of nearly $50 million in mental health services — and the total defunding of this crisis-support network — will decimate a system carefully designed to help people avoid costly institutions.

The dismantling of metro-area crisis services alone would cost taxpayers approximately $8 million for the increased costs of hospitalizations (based on an average four-day stay), and could result in many lost lives.

These cuts are “penny wise and pound foolish” because they shift costs from the relatively inexpensive crisis services to our hospitals, emergency services, law enforcement, prisons, and courts.

House bill maintains services
Fortunately, the Health and Human Services bill recently passed in the House would maintain these services intact.

All this is unnecessary and avoidable in our community. Please contact your legislators at once and ask them to maintain these critical — and cost-effective — mental-health services.

M. Tim Burkett, Ph.D., L.P., is a licensed psychologist and CEO of People Incorporated Mental Health Services, which serves more than 6,500 people per year through 40-plus programs in the Twin Cities metro area.