More Fed Aid Sought For Mental Health Programs

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Nevada's mental health agency chief says Congress should provide more money to help the states deliver a coordinated system of services to people with mental problems.

Carlos Brandenburg, administrator of the state Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services, told the House subcommittee on substance abuse and mental health services on Tuesday that the current system for helping mentally ill and addicted people is fragmented.

Testifying in Washington, D.C., Brandenburg also said a state commission looking has learned about "the large barriers encountered by individuals with mental illness who are chronically homeless."

Brandenburg added that all levels of government must work to establish "an extensive and coordinated state system of services and supports that work to foster consumer independence and their ability to live, work, learn and participate fully in their communities."

He added that no state "can do this without significant assistance on the part of the federal government," and more federal money is needed to plan and to "fill the enormous gaps in care for people with mental illness."

Despite increases in state funding in recent years for mental health care, Nevada is still playing catch-up from the early 1990s, when the state slashed support for mental health programs in response to an economic recession.

Mental health care professionals say their programs haven't kept pace with Nevada's rapid population growth and remain understaffed and underfunded. Examples can be found in the state-run mental health clinics that dispense medicine to uninsured and underinsured clients.

In 2001, one-third of all new clients had to wait at least 15 days for their first medication appointment following referral. This year, half of all new clients have had to wait at least 15 days.

The state Mental Health Division received $4.8 million in federal funds last fiscal year and is expecting to receive $4.9 million this fiscal year and $5.1 million the next fiscal year, according to the Legislative Fiscal Analyst Division.