Families and individuals ravaged by the recession and falling into depression, anxiety and substance abuse, among other grim conditions, need a safety net to prevent devastating outcomes like complete mental breakdowns and suicide. Manatee Glens is the county’s primary source for that assistance.
The nonprofit mental health and additions service cares for about 14,000 patients a year. An astonishing number are children and teenagers, some 3,700. Unemployed or lacking health insurance, an ever increasing number of those clients depend on state funding to help pay for treatments.
But again this year, the Florida Senate is targeting behavioral health services for draconian budget cuts -- a $93 million statewide slice that would cripple Manatee Glens and all but eliminate outpatient services. The mental health provider predicts 3,500 current patients will lose their safety net.
Those patients won’t disappear. Many will end up in hospital emergency rooms, homeless or in jails, a far more expensive proposition on both public and private sector services. And ultimately, taxpayers.
People in psychiatric distress often end up in the criminal justice system for petty violations that can escalate after their release back into society, thus cycling back behind bars time and again. Florida’s jails could become warehouses for the mentally ill who are unable to get state-supported, community-based treatment. Shortsighted legislators fail to grasp those connections.
The situation is far too grave for such severe cutbacks. Manatee Glens has seen demand for mental health services double in one year. As Florida continues to crack down on pill mills and prescription drug abuse, more and more addicts are seeking treatment.
The state already holds an ignominious reputation as bereft of compassion. Florida ranks 50th among states and Washington, D.C. in publicly funded per capita spending on mental health and substance abuse services. Bob Sharpe, the executive director of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health, also told the Senate health and human services subcommittee that this new budget cut would the state “dead last by a wide margin.”
The Florida House version of mental health cuts are not quite as severe as the Senate proposal. Still, Mary Ruiz, Manatee Glens president and chief executive, expects the closure of the children’s crisis center under the House plan, which has already passed its state budget.
Lawmakers place the blame on the state’s $2 billion revenue shortfall, a convenient excuse that ignores legislative earmarks for pet projects. Sen. Mike Bennett of Bradenton readily admits the budget contains plenty of waste.
Why target some of the most vulnerable Floridians? Why carve such large holes in the state’s already thread-bare safety net?
Like the misguided efforts to slash spending on mental health for the past two years, this one, too, should fail. As the Senate considers the state budget this week, Floridians should demand better of the Legislature. Contact Manatee County’s senators to urge a rejection of these cuts.
n Sen. Mike Bennett, 21st Senatorial District, (941) 727-6349; firstname.lastname@example.org
n Sen. Arthenia Joyner, 18th Senatorial District, (813) 233-4277, email@example.com
n Sen. Nancy Detert, 23rd Senatorial District, (941) 480-3547, firstname.lastname@example.org