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Republicans should care about mental illness

Massive cuts to the publicly funded behavioral health system should be a wake- up call for all Arizonians but especially for our Republican leadership whose decisions will lead to massive suffering for those with a mental illness.

About 14,000 people with a serious mental illness will receive minimal or zero care starting July 1 because of decisions made by Gov. Jan Brewer and the Republican-led Legislature. Let’s be very clear what this means. Those with a serious mental illness are the most vulnerable population in the state. They did nothing wrong to bring on this illness. Nothing could have prevented it. They cannot just “pull themselves up or receive care from charities.” There are absolutely no other options available to them for services other than the government, and now our government has decided not to provide even a minimum of adequate care.

We know what will happen when care is eliminated on July 1. Most will decompensate and become homeless, suffering in misery, walking the streets of our cities. Some will cram into our already crowded emergency rooms where no care will be given because doctors there will not prescribe psychotropic medications. Some will self-medicate, causing a host of problems, while others will commit suicide. Other will find that some treatment — plus food and shelter — are available in our costly prison system. Expect that a small number will kill others similar to the incident 16 months ago in which an individual who had been off his medication for some time took a baseball bat to two little kids.

The Republican response is simply: “We don’t have the money.”

But that’s garbage. During difficult times, reasonable and responsible decisions can still be made and alternatives are always available. Statesmen find solutions. Politicians get re-elected.

— Jerry Boehm is director of operations for the Arizona Council of Human Service Providers

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