Brownback's shell game on mental health funds
The Kansas City Star
For Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a wakeup call. He has announced a renewed focus on serving people who are mentally ill and resistant to treatment.
It’s a good idea, and one that families of mentally ill Kansans have been requesting for years. Both Kansas and Missouri desperately need crisis stabilization clinics — a middle ground between outpatient treatment and hospitalization.
But the governor’s plan is deficient in two respects:
He is providing no new money for a seriously underfunded mental health system. Instead, he is asking the state’s community-based mental health network to shift $10 million from other services to focus on his initiative.
He is attempting to curb gun violence with no effort to keep guns away from potentially unstable owners or to reduce the availability of the military-style weapons and ammunition which are favored by shooters who embark on rampages.
Such is the condition of Kansas’ mental health network that service providers welcomed the governor’s interest as a sign that they might avoid more devastating budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year.
Community mental health centers in Kansas saw their budgets cut by $20 million since 2008 before the Legislature restored $5 million last year.
But even as they expressed gratitude for Brownback’s gesture, advocates for the mentally ill wondered what services would have to be cut so that regional hubs could be created to reach out to mentally ill persons who might be at high risk for violence or for admission to psychiatric facilities or jail.
Adequate early treatment can often keep an individual from falling into the high-risk areas that Brownback wants to address.
While a focus on mental health is always welcome, Brownback should acknowledge that the problem of gun violence isn’t limited to the mentally ill.
The crux of the problem is the widespread availability of weapons and ammunition designed to do great harm to people, and the indiscriminate way in which they are distributed.
To really reduce the chances of a carnage two things are needed: more resources for mental health and fewer guns.
Unfortunately, Brownback is proposing neither.