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Budget Cut for Arcadia's 'Bare-Bones' Mental Clinic

October 01, 1989|ELIZABETH LU | Times Staff Writer

The county's latest round of budget cuts has left staff members at the Arcadia Mental Health Center feeling as if the rug has been pulled out from under them.

But it's a feeling they've gotten used to.

"This is the fifth year we've been on the cut list," said John Wells, director of the center, the only public mental health clinic in the San Gabriel Valley.

Before the latest cuts, the clinic, at 330 E. Live Oak Ave., had been pared down to a bare-bones staff of 23. After the county's decision to slash the clinic's budget by more than $1 million, the counseling center will be forced to work with about half that number, Wells said.

Revenue Windfall

Last Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to spend $4.75 million of a tax-revenue windfall on mental health programs.

But the emergency allocation failed to stave off budget cuts for the Arcadia clinic and seven other facilities: San Antonio in Bell Gardens, West Central, South Bay, Hollywood, Rio Hondo, San Pedro and Coastal.

And still others fared worse than that. West Valley in Canoga Park and the Hubert H. Humphrey facility in South Los Angeles will receive no funds and are scheduled to close today. Two other clinics targeted for closing received a reprieve until June 30, 1990.

The Arcadia center's annual budget will be limited to $688,000, or one-third of what it has now, said Francis Dowling, chief deputy director of the county's mental health programs.

Targeted for Closure

"They will only be a crisis management center," Dowling said of the center. The 23-year-old facility, which handled 1,200 patient visits a month at its height, will no longer treat walk-ins and other outpatients, he said.

"There's nothing new there," Wells said, adding that the center has not had the staff to treat outpatients since February, when the facility was targeted for closure. In March, a last-minute, $3.25-million allocation by county supervisors kept Arcadia and seven other clinics open.

During the last several months, the center has restricted itself to treating about 100 severely and chronically ill patients, but it may soon have to stop treating some of those patients as well, Wells said. But he's not really sure about the extent of the impact.

"I haven't done a damage assessment yet," Wells said.

Although Wells said he is glad that there is a program in the San Gabriel Valley, some staff members are less optimistic. The latest infusion of county money will only help to maintain a facade of services, said one worker.

"They have cut us back so much," he said. "It's very frustrating."

Financial Uncertainty

County mental health centers have been facing financial uncertainty for several years as first the state, and then the county, cut funding. During the last year, the number of county clinics has dropped from 28 to 25, and will drop to 23 when West Valley and Hubert Humphrey close today .

At the surviving clinics, drastically curtailed services have added stress and anxiety for patients and shifted much of the burden for handling emergency cases to law enforcement agencies.

For example, the Arcadia center's Psychiatric Mobile Response Team used to handle 120 nighttime crisis calls a month, but, to save money, the county has been dispatching the team only twice a month recently, Wells said.

Known as Psychiatric Emergency Teams until recently, the mobile response group is staffed by psychiatrists and social workers who help police evaluate patients at the scene and take them to appropriate medical facilities.

Lessens Criticism

According to Wells, deleting the word emergency from the team's name lessens public criticism if teams are unable to respond right away.

As the response teams become less available, law enforcement officers must take time to take patients to county hospitals for evaluation, said Alhambra Police Chief Russell Siverling.

"It's not the function of the police officers to transport people all over the county," he said. "Police officers should be free to do police work."

At Pacific Clinics, a nonprofit service center in Pasadena, Dr. Craig Schweon said funding cuts for response teams have had a negative impact on their work as well. Unlike the county response team, Pacific's staff members are not authorized to commit patients to hospitals.

Pressing State for Funds

Because funding for mental health care remains questionable, the county has asked cities to press the state for more money. The Legislature adjourned two weeks ago without taking action on a bill that would provide additional mental health dollars to counties.

"I'm extremely disappointed that the Legislature and the governor do not see fit to take care of the mentally ill in California," Wells said.

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