News

Cuts Threaten Key Mental Health Services

CSBScores of mental health, disability and substance abuse advocates gathered at meetings throughout Fairfax County and Falls Church last week, vowing to defend their vital services from proposed cuts at the county and state levels.

More than 400 mental health patients will be denied treatment if the current plan for budget cuts go through. According to a report, it will lead to a significantly increased risk of suicide or self-injury.

 

CSB

MENTAL HEALTH AND DISABILITIES CARE advocates met at Arc of Northern Va. Wednesday in Falls Church. (Photo: News-Press)

Scores of mental health, disability and substance abuse advocates gathered at meetings throughout Fairfax County and Falls Church last week, vowing to defend their vital services from proposed cuts at the county and state levels.

More than 400 mental health patients will be denied treatment if the current plan for budget cuts go through. According to a report, it will lead to a significantly increased risk of suicide or self-injury.

A Virginia Abilities Alliance-hosted advocate forum held yesterday in Falls Church and last week’s CSB budget advocacy sessions attracted more than 40 people each.

Mental health care facilities in Fairfax County haven’t been spared from proposals that threaten to leave hundreds of patients with no recourse for medical care.

The Fairfax County-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB), which oversees the county’s mental health care centers and counseling services, faces a cut of $1.34 million and nine positions from its 2011 operational budget, according to presentations the CSB held last week to fight the cuts.

The County Executive Anthony Griffin’s recommendations had called for a cut of $3.4 million and 15 positions for the CSB 2011 budget.

Regional and state mental health and disabilities support workers addressed their concerns for thousands of Fairfax County individuals in need of services.

“No cut is a small cut in community-based care,” said Nancy Mercer, executive director of The Arc of Northern Virginia, based in Falls Church, where yesterday’s meeting was held. Mercer directed the discussions at the VAA forum.

“What’s been hard for us is the question of why legislators care for people in the institutional training centers instead of people who are left on the waiting lists?” Mercer said.

According to Woody Witt, the CSB representative for the City of Fairfax, there are more than 300 people waiting for critical services provided by regional mental health and disabilities groups.

“We’ve dealt with tough budgets in the past, and we’ve tightened our administrative costs. This time, they’re threatening the actual services we offer individuals,” Witt said. “We’re the social safety net of last resort for thousands of people. If we don’t provide the services, they’ll end up in the hospital, in the emergency rooms, in jail. We can handle them now so they don’t cost the system more by becoming emergencies.”

CSB executive director George  Braunstein estimated the CSB serves over 21,000 people annually, and provides preventive and community education services to another 6,000.

“We have to look in the long run,” Witt said. “Providing services to individuals who need it right now will save Fairfax County money and give these individuals a chance to find jobs and live normal lives.”

Braunstein said the CSB “will meet more than 70 percent of the budget reductions with new revenue sources and business improvements.”

The savings, he said, will allow the CSB to continue to offer services to hundreds of patients who depend on the CSB to provide counseling and medical services.

The nine positions the CSB will fight to save include a mental health forensics staff member. According to a report circulated by the CSB, “If the position is eliminated, we’re looking at a reduction of around 400 mental health patient intakes a year. That’s a 15 percent reduction of our current capacity. This may lead to an increased risk of suicide or self-injury for inmates with mental health issues, and that’s unacceptable.”