9:52 AM Eastern - Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Caregivers release white paper linking mental health safety net, public safety

MentalHealthMatters_sm.jpgIt's well known that the vast majority of people living with mental illness are peaceful, functioning members of their community, posing no risk to themselves or others. This is because treatment works, when dedicated mental healthcare professionals are available to provide it.

But some state's systems are falling short -- reaching barely half of low-income residents in need of state-funded mental health services. When this frayed safety net fails, some people will lose control--with tragic results that wreck lives and destroy everyone's sense of safety in the community.

This month, members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW gathered at the State Capitol in Olympia to release a powerful new look at the crisis facing mental healthcare in Washington state. The report is entitled Don't Look Away: With a collapsing mental health safety net, Washington is losing the fight against preventable tragedies (PDF) .

In WA, cuts to mental health programs would leave mental health patients to receive care in emergency rooms, jails, and hospitals instead of community settings. Providing mental healthcare in the community costs $2,162 a year, while similar care in a prison costs $31,000 or $182,000 in a state hospital.

"The headlines show that we need mental health programs in our community, and the consequences impact all of us when the system falls apart," said Tamhas Clinton, a psych tech at Compass Health.

SEIU's Supporting People, Supporting Communities campaign unites the members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW with over 250,000 SEIU members nationwide who are committed to supporting people with developmental disabilities and mental health needs so they can live fulfilling lives as part of their communities.

As the backbone of human service delivery, SEIU members work side by side with disability and mental health advocates to preserve and increase needed funding for critical services.

On Dec. 6, Q-13 TV News aired a story drawing links between mental illness-related crimes and the budget cuts facing DSHS and the mental illness treatment facilities it funds. The article also notes the high cost of cutting such services:

"Cuts to mental health programs would leave mental health patients to receive care in emergency rooms, jails, and hospitals instead of community settings. Providing mental healthcare in the community costs $2,162 a year, while similar care in a prison costs $31,000 or $182,000 in a state hospital."

Another news segment, on KING-5 TV News, quotes SEIU's Jonathan Rosenblum, saying that recent violent crimes committed by mentally ill people "are not random, unrelated acts. They're the warning signs of a mental health system that is spiraling into deeper crisis."

Download SEIU Healthcare 1199NW's report here (pdf).


SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is Washington's largest health care union, representing more than 22,000 healthcare workers, including more than 2,500 state, hospital-based, and community mental health workers. In addition to this important work to prevent destructive austerity measures, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW expanded access to crisis diversion facilities in King County earlier this year.

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