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Mental health advocates oppose Colorado budget cuts

STEVEN K. PAULSON
Associated Press Writer

DENVER – Shouting “stop those cuts,” dozens of advocates for people with mental illnesses called on Gov. Bill Ritter on Friday to spare them from upcoming budget cuts.

Lacey Berumen, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Colorado, said Colorado doctors and hospitals are already having a difficult time keeping up with patient demand. She said when people who need treatment are turned away, they often end up in jail, charged with crimes.

“We appreciate the difficult task facing the governor as he looks for ways to bring state spending into line with lower revenues. Study after study have confirmed that cutting treatment and medications for persons with mental illness will cost the state more money than will be saved,” Berumen said.

The governor does not need legislative approval to make the cuts and plans to issue an executive order by Sept. 1 cutting $384 million from this year’s budget because tax collections have continued to fall off because of the recession. The budget year ends next June.

Last month, the governor’s budget office said it plans to cut $105 million from the Department of Human Services and $172 million from Health Care Policy and Financing for this fiscal year and next year, but specific programs were not identified.

The group said there were 120,000 adults with mental illness or substance abuse problems and 18,000 children with serious emotional disorders in Colorado receiving no mental health treatment, according to a 2009 state study.

Colorado also has the sixth highest rate of suicide in the country, 40 percent higher than the national average.

Jan Bach, a Thornton city council woman, said she has a 24-year-old daughter diagnosed with mental illness. She said cuts to mental health programs will hurt “our most vulnerable citizens.”

Supporters of mental health programs collected 1,200 petition signatures asking Ritter to spare the programs from cuts he’s planning to announce next week.

Ritter is expected to announce which programs will be cut on Tuesday, when he presents his proposal to the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.


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