Due to dramatic budget shortfalls, more and more states are cutting aid to the poor, the sick, and the mentally disabled. But that doesn’t make the problem go away, it simply shifts who is bearing the burden. And in the case of Texas, the burden is falling to an already overly strapped police force.
Via the Houston Chronicle:
In a state that offers meager funding for mental health, law enforcement officers across Texas have performed the duties of psychologists and social workers — roles they have neither the training nor the manpower to bear.
The Texas Legislature, which has never been generous to mental health clinics, has further withered services under the strain of a strapped state budget, and as a result, police and sheriff’s departments say the number of mental health calls they respond to is snowballing.
And thanks to a new $27 billion budget crisis, it may only get worse.
Initial proposals would cut services provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services by 20 percent, making it more likely for mentally ill Texans to end up in emergency rooms, having mental breakdowns or being thrown behind bars.
Jails are packed with mentally ill Texans who most often haven’t committed a violent crime, but cycle endlessly through the system for minor violations, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.
Texans with a serious mental illness are eight times more likely to be incarcerated in jails than treated in hospitals, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. A community health care program costs $12 per day to care for a patient, compared to $137 per day to incarcerate them, the group said.
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez said mentally ill inmates cost the county the most money, with more than a third of the county jail’s 6,000 inmates requiring mental health services. The cost of housing and providing care for these inmates was nearly $19 million in 2010.
Should the police be forced to go beyond being law enforcement, instead playing mental health adviser to the state’s mentally ill? And as Texas considers even more cuts, such as cuts to the state Medicaid program, one of the last lines of funding for treatment and drugs for many, there’s no doubt that this problem will only grow worse.
Texas isn’t alone in this situation. Many states are looking to save money cut cutting needed assistance to the mentally ill, who will be denied shelter, assistance or drugs. Instead of treatment, or assistance to stay on path and live their lives, the cuts will cost the state more in the long run due to overburdened hospitals, jails and law enforcement costs.