Proposal to cut 50 beds at Terrell State Hospital draws concern

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Monday, April 19, 2010, By KIM HORNER / The Dallas Morning News

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A proposal to cut 50 beds at the region's public psychiatric hospital is generating concern from North Texas officials.

The loss of 50 beds at the 300-bed Terrell State Hospital is one of many proposed cuts to close a state budget gap of up to $15 billion. But local officials said it would be one of the most painful.

The state's Department of State Health Services also proposed cutting 50 beds each in hospitals in San Antonio, Wichita Falls and Rusk, for a total savings of $27 million over two years. The hospitals would serve 207 fewer patients in the current fiscal year and 1,240 fewer in fiscal year 2011. A total of 630 jobs would be lost.

Mental health advocates and criminal justice officials say the cuts would lead to higher numbers of seriously mentally ill people in jails and at homeless shelters.

"Cuts to mental health services are fiscally irresponsible. It is fiscally responsible to provide mental health care because that saves taxpayers' money," said Janie Metzinger, public policy director of Mental Health America of Greater Dallas. "Texas taxpayers get a good bang for their buck on mental health and substance abuse services. It not only saves money down the line it saves taxpayer money today because it costs so much more to put somebody in jail."

Gov. Rick Perry and other leaders ordered state agencies to make recommendations for savings. The proposed cuts have not been approved.

The state Department of Health Services proposed the bed cuts as part of $100 million in total department cuts. Carrie Williams, department spokeswoman, said cutting state hospital beds is last on the agency's priority list.

"Our mental health hospitals make up a very large part of our budget. It was nearly impossible to leave them untouched and not include them as an option in trying to reach the targets we were supposed to reach," Williams said.

Local officials said Terrell State Hospital already does not have enough beds to meet the needs.

Thomas M. Collins, chief executive officer of Green Oaks, a psychiatric emergency hospital in Dallas, said the state hospital already cannot accept patients one out of five days because of a lack of beds.

Green Oaks sees up to 1,500 patients a month, people who often are brought by police, for emergency psychiatric care. Many patients are sent to Terrell State Hospital for longer-term treatment. But Collins said the bed cuts would make that increasingly difficult. He said Green Oaks would become "completely jammed up" and that many patients would be discharged earlier than they should be.

"There would be seriously sick people having to hit the street," Collins said. "The Bridge [Dallas' homeless assistance center], instead of seeing 1,000 people a day, it'd kick up to 1,500."