BRADENTON -- Nearly 200 protesters gathered Monday in downtown Bradenton to rally against steep cuts to mental health care in the proposed Florida Senate budget.
Holding signs calling for no cuts and soliciting honks from oncoming motorists, the group walked from Manatee Glens on 6th Avenue West to the courthouse and county complex downtown.
Manatee Glens staff, patients and supporters made the hike to send a message about how the impact of $91 million in state proposed cuts would be felt locally.
At Manatee Glens, a 75-bed hospital and outpatient practice, the proposal would leave about 3,500 patients struggling with mental illness or addiction without care, protesters said.
"It's drastic for our community because we have a prescription drug epidemic, we lost our state hospital, and this is the last place to turn," said Mary Ruiz, president and CEO of Manatee Glens. "Patients will be left without care."
Ruiz said the state cuts would actually cost the system more in the long run through increased strain on emergency rooms and jails.
Supporters here Monday agreed. About 25 patients and administrators from First Step in Sarasota even made the drive north to participate in the walk.
They waved American flags and signs reading "Florida needs mental health," "Fight pain pills fund treatment," and "Find the money for families."
"If I didn't have this service I would probably be homeless," said Jeffrey Vassey, a 55-year-old Bradenton resident who said he receives care at Manatee Glens for paranoid schizophrenia.