[Hpn] Mental health budget cuts hit close to home;Massachusetts;11/30/01
Morgan W. Brown
Fri, 30 Nov 2001 15:17:55 -0500
Friday, November 30, 2001
MetroWest Daily News <http://www.metrowestdailynews.com>
Local News section
Mental health budget cuts hit close to home
By Michael Kunzelman
Friday, November 30, 2001
BOSTON - Dolores Guerrant and her children were homeless before they moved
to Sage House, a Framingham group home for women recovering from addiction
and mental illness.
"Sage House saved my life," said Guerrant, who has lived there for the past
10 months. "I just don't know where I would be without it."
But deep cuts to the state Department of Mental Health's budget may force
the South Middlesex Opportunity Council to close the home, said Kim Manning,
the Framingham agency's director of clinical services.
"I don't think the average person living out in the suburbs knows how
important these programs are and how many people they help," Manning added.
"If they did, they wouldn't let it happen."
To protest the cuts, Guerrant and other Sage House residents traveled to
Boston yesterday to join a rally outside the State House. Chanting and
holding signs, about 500 mental-health advocates, providers and clients
chided the Legislature for slashing an estimated $28.1 million out of DMH's
"In our wildest dreams, we never imagined that we would be dealing with
budget cuts of this magnitude," said Elizabeth Funk, president and CEO of
the Natick-based Mental Health and Substance Abuse Corporations of
Faced with the cuts, DMH plans to lay off up to 470 workers at state
hospitals, eliminate 170 beds at adult in-patient facilities and discharge
58 children from state-run facilities by Jan. 1.
Non-profit agencies that rely heavily on DMH funds, like SMOC and the
Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, may have to wait until after
acting Gov. Jane Swift issues her budget vetoes before they learn how the
cuts will affect their programs.
Beth Fleahman, who coordinates a Wayside-sponsored support group for parents
of mentally ill children, also has a 15-year-old son who suffers from a mood
disorder. She said her son, a student at the Victor School in Acton, could
lose access to DMH services if the cuts go through.
"He may end up going into a group home or another residential placement,"
she said. "It's definitely unfair."
John Auerbach, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission,
warned that the cuts could lead to a sharp rise in homelessness, substance
abuse and suicides among the mentally ill.
"The cuts create not just a crisis in mental health, they create a crisis in
public health as well," he told the gathering.
Funk urged the crowd to lobby their local lawmakers to restore the money in
the form of a supplemental budget.
"We know that these minor savings in the short-term will be a very large
public cost in the long-term," she added.
Dominick Ianno, a spokesman for Administration and Finance Secretary Stephen
Crosby, said the Swift administration hopes to restore at least $6 million
worth of "legally mandated (DMH) spending" that the Legislature's budget
failed to fund.
"Clearly," said state Rep. Deborah Blumer, D-Framingham, "we need more
mental health services and not less. I think we have an obligation to
restore those cuts as a priority."
During a press briefing yesterday, House Speaker Thomas Finneran left the
door open to restoring money for human services, including mental health
programs. But he rejected Swift's claim that lawmakers failed to fund some
programs and agencies at legally mandated levels.
"Not all (programs) are created equal," he added. "You have to focus and you
have to pick and choose."
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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