The already crippled mental health system in the San Fernando Valley was dealt another blow Tuesday when Los Angeles County officials announced that the clinics will have to absorb roughly $700,000 in cuts if more state funds are not received.
"The system is in such unbelievably bad shape, the prospect of further cuts is unconscionable, unbelievable," said Ian Hunter, executive director of the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center.
Mental health providers had hoped the Valley's mentally ill would be spared this year because the area took the brunt of county cuts in 1989. The county's two major clinics in the Valley were closed last year, leaving thousands of mentally disabled people without treatment. Under the proposed budget, yet another clinic, a small one in La Crescenta that serves a portion of the Valley, will close this summer.
"We tried to give them less of a cut because of the hit they took last year," said Roberto Quiroz, director of the county's Mental Health Department. But he added, "At a time like this, everybody gets hit. That's the painful part."
On the surface, it looks as if not all the news was bad when the county released its $10.2-billion budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1. The county proposes expanding the overcrowded maternity ward at Olive View Medical Center, where women sometimes must deliver their babies in hallways.
But the budget also indicates that the hospital is expected to enlarge its maternity ward with less money than it is receiving this year. The county proposes slashing its allocation to the obstetrics department by nearly $1.3 million.
"There is not enough funding to expand even though they have approved expanding 20 beds," Douglas Bagley, Olive View's administrator, said. "The amount of funding doesn't cover 20 beds."
Whether any of the austerity measures will be needed remains unknown. It is a spring tradition for the county to announce a series of cuts before the state adopts its final budget. The county is heavily dependent upon the state for much of its money.
But Quiroz said this time the budget projections might not be gloomy enough. He said even more money might have to be withheld from private and county clinics.
The area's hardest-hit clinic would be the privately run San Fernando Valley Community Health Center, which could receive a $192,506 cut. It was already struggling to provide services to some of the mentally ill who were left in a lurch when the county's two major Valley clinics closed last year. Patients now must wait two weeks to get an appointment for an emergency and two months for a regular visit, Hunter said.
One of Hunter's programs that would be cut helps 80 mentally ill people who are homeless.
Before the program started, Hunter said the clients were "wandering the streets of Van Nuys. If they cut it that's where they will be.
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