Advocates gather in support of mental health

October 14, 2009 10:38:26 AM PDT
Mental health providers, social workers and patients gathered Wednesday to show their disagreement with recent budget cuts to the State Department of Health and Human Services.Advocates are declaring their own state of emergency.

The say the massive cuts could soon impact care and programs for those in need and cost people their jobs.

"We've got to treat this [like a] hurricane," said Jennifer Mahan, chair of The Coalition, a mental health advocacy group.

Advocates say the mental health system is on the verge of being wiped out by a man made storm.

People like Kelly Goodall, who has cerebral palsy, rely on community health programs to live a somewhat normal life.

"I am in danger of being institutionalized," Goodall said.

Advocates say this year's state budget came with side effects, hitting the mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse communities hard. A $4.5 million hole in the budget had to be filled.

DHHS is the NC's second largest state department, but it is operating on $1.5 billion less under the new budget. Advocates argue the cuts have forced layoffs, reductions and eliminations in services.

That's why they're urging Governor Perdue to call the General Assembly into a special session to look for ways to restore some of that funding.

Wednesday the Legislative Oversight Committee empathized with a room full of silent protestors. However, DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansier says implementing all the cuts would be impossible without crippling the entire system.

"If I dismissed all 19,000 employees in the DHHS, that would only be about two-thirds of the way to the budget reduction," he explained. "Then [DHHS] wouldn't have enough to operate any services or anything else."

Govorner Bev Perdue seems to be listening.

Tuesday, she said DHHS identified $15 million that "will be directed toward the struggling community service arena."

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