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 Marcia Purse

Alabama Closing Four of Six Facilities for Mentally Ill

By February 17, 2012

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The New York Times reports today that in the wake of serious budget problems, Alabama is debating plans to close its last four state hospitals for the mentally ill while retaining one for criminal suspects and one for geriatric patients.

Since the 1990s, says the Times reporter Robbie Brown, Alabama has already closed 10 other mental health treatment centers. In addition, financing for mental health services has been cut by 36%, and additional cuts of up to 25% are planned for 2013.

Brown adds, "Nearly all of the 524 other mentally ill patients will get treatment at group homes and community centers, which are less expensive and give them more freedom, state officials say."

Unlike the recent announcement of psychiatric care ending at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, this one is not being condemned by mental health advocates. They say conditions at the facilities were so poor that community treatment has to be better. The concern, though, is that there won't be enough funds available to run such treatment centers properly. Jack Madison, writing for WAFF-TV in Alabama, says it is already extremely difficult for the homeless to get residential care.

Alabama is facing huge revenue drops in its General Fund, which provides money specifically for Medicaid and mental health, among other areas. So this is not a "punish the poorest mentally ill first" situation. Federal grants and matching funds earmarked for mental health treatment are going to drop, without a doubt, due to the factors which determine the size of those federal contributions.

So like other mental health advocates, I can't condemn this plan. I can only hope the consequences won't be too dire.

Brown, Robbie. Alabama Plans to Close Most Hospitals for Mentally Ill. The New York Times. 17 Feb 2012.
White, David. 'Draconian' cuts could be coming for Alabama budget. Birmingham News. 17 Feb 2012.

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