Funding state mental health and drug programs is critical
Highlands TodayFlorida's top budget heads in the Legislature have been working all weekend to pound out a new budget for human services in the state, and we hope state Rep. Denise Grimsley comes out on top. There's so much to lose for people who desperately need these services, and the Senate version would almost devastate critical care that will cost us more in the long run.
Published: March 4, 2012
Published: March 4, 2012
Grimsley and state Sen. J.D. Alexander are working on a compromise to finalize state spending. If $100 million is slashed in mental health, drug abuse and children's psychiatric programs, the costs will grow much higher, according to mental health and law enforcement professionals.
In Highlands County, cuts of that magnitude could eliminate some Department of Families and Children funding and half of Tri-County's 75 mental health and substance abuse workers. About 1,400 local people depend on those services.
Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton pointed out that almost everyone in the county jail is there directly — or indirectly — due to drug or mental health reasons. It might be someone stealing to buy drugs or a person with mental health issues who commits crimes while off medication or counseling.
If these cuts are put into place at this level, that means more people will be lodged in our jails because there is no adequate treatment for them elsewhere. A funded mental health facility, like Tri-County, is critical to deal with these issues.
Tri-County takes patients who need reduced-cost care or cannot pay at all. Many of the people needing this kind of care fall into these categories. In a county like Highlands, the need is even greater because there is nowhere else for them to turn.
Everyone understands that the state has a big budget deficit and cuts are to be expected. It's the level of cuts that makes the difference. We give Grimsley credit for fighting for funding for these services in the past, and we're counting on her doing it again.
Apparently it's easy for our state Senate to ignore real needs in the state and slash budgets like this without any thought to the carnage their decisions leave behind. Looked at another way, they might be cutting the state budget but all they're really doing is passing these costs on to counties that then must deal with the fallout. That means taxpayers pay more in the long run.
That's not good leadership. That's not vision or compassion. It's just bad politics and poor public policy.
Let's hope this most critical care is maintained at an adequate level. If not, we're going to pay for it anyway, and a lot of people are going to suffer.