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State Capitol News

Mental health funds at risk

By Howard Fischer

Phoenix, AZ – State officials are warning they may have to abolish the entire
program designed to help those in mental health crisis if their
funding is cut any further.

Interim state health director Will Humble said he's being asked,
like all other agency chiefs, to detail how he would take 15
percent out of his budget. That translates to about $68 million.
But Humble explained Monday that the department already has been
hit hard already with prior budget cuts. He said the result has
been slashing a host of public health programs, ranging from
reducing follow-up home visits of premature infants to
eliminating funding for children's vaccines.

"Because those funds are essentially 100 percent depleted at this
point, what you'll see as you look at the $68 million reduction
report is that, for the most part, the additional reductions are
in the behavioral mental health parts of the department."

Humble said that means eliminating the crisis response system. It
now handles about 10,600 calls a month statewide, often from
police agencies who come across someone with serious mental
health problems. And crisis teams now respond to the scene
themselves to help out those first responders about a third of
the time. With the funding gone, deputy health director Laura
Nelson said police will be left with three choices: Take the
person to a shelter if he or she is homeless, take the person to
a hospital emergency room to be stabilized or, if neither of
those are appropriate, simply walk away.