Texas may cut mental health services funding

HOUSTON The Department of State Health Services is looking to cut millions of dollars from community health centers.

One of the "Texana Centers" off Airport Avenue in Rosenberg says cutbacks will mean a lot of people will go without. Folks there don't want to panic patients, but they are very worried about cutbacks. They fear those who really need mental health services could fall through the cracks.

As one of the state's largest community mental health centers, Texana serves approximately 2,800 patients a year in a six-county region including Fort Bend, Waller, and Wharton counties. Anticipated budget cuts, though, mean they're looking at being forced to slash the number of patients they can serve.

"Approximately 350 additional patients, and we would not serve those individuals if the funding went away," said Shena Timberlake with Texana.

If those 350 patients are not treated in these offices, most would be left with no other options. There'd be a waiting list to get in. If they had to, patients in need could be turned away.

"We would have no choice but to send them to the local emergency rooms," Timberlake said.

The only other local resource, experts say, is jail -- and that's where some likely would end up.

"From a humanitarian standpoint, I'm very concerned," said Craig Brady with the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office. "There are some people that are being neglected who actually need some help."

Brady says the jail there is one of few across the state that does offer mental health services. Still, he says incarceration is not what some really need.

"It basically becomes a revolving door, especially for homeless people that have underlying mental issues," Brady said.

The cuts were requested by the state as the legislature faces a potential $18 billion budget shortfall. The Texas Department of State Health Services has outlined $246 million in possible cuts that would mean more than 20,000 Texans lose mental health care.

The irony, experts say, is that sending patients to a local emergency room or jail in this effort to save money actually will cost more.

"Those settings are much more costly than providing outpatient community services," Timberlake said.

Now the legislature must decide just how much to cut and where. It is expected to do so sometime next spring.

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