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Minnesota-Run Mental Health Care Under Fire

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 By Laura ThornquistContact
April 12, 2010

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Proposed budget cuts and a plan to redesign chemical abuse and mental health services in the state is a hot-button topic at the State Capitol this week. The Senate will unveil a new plan today in an attempt to preserve services for the mentally ill and disabled and save jobs.

The current blueprint comes from the governor and would affect 200 sites that provide care for people with mental illnesses. Funding would by cut by $17 million and 200 jobs would be eliminated. The blueprint points out duplicated services are part of those being eliminated. Eliot Seide, director of AFSCME Council 5, disagrees with this approach.

"We would kill the services, we'd disrupt the community, we'd disrupt the clients and we would worsen the economic situation in the state. Couldn't be worse."

The governor's administration also says the plan helps the Department of Human Services (DHS) close its share of a projected $1 billion statewide budget deficit.

AFSCME's issue with the plan is not just the jobs lost, Seide says, but also with the specialized services for people with mental illnesses that are on the chopping block - especially services the private sector commonly does not provide, such as dental.

"If those dental offices are closed, there is no place for those clients to get dental services. Lack of dental services means worse health for the client and more difficult times for the client and their family. It makes for a very disruptive situation for the client, the worker and the community."

Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Minn) says DHS is already looking at ways to scale back state-operated services, and he wants to prohibit further cuts unless there is legislative approval.

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