Merced County Seeing Uptick in Demand for Mental Health Services
A regional housing crisis is driving more Merced County residents to seek out mental health services at the same time the state is cutting funding for such programs, the Merced Sun-Star reports.
In conjunction with the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting, the Sun-Star produced a series of articles about the impact of foreclosures on mental health problems among Merced County residents.
CHCF publishes California Healthline.
In 2009, Merced County had the highest foreclosure rate in California and the sixth highest among counties nationwide, according to the firm RealtyTrac.
As more families struggled with the effects of the recession, county health clinics started reporting an uptick in the number of patients experiencing anxiety, depression or other mental health issues.
During the previous fiscal year, county workers had a total caseload of 2,365 patients with mental health problems. During the first six months of the current fiscal year, county workers reported a caseload of 2,229 patients.
In addition, each county worker is handling a larger individual caseload because recent state budget cuts forced the county to reduce its mental health staff from 33 to 24 workers. Following the staffing reductions, each outpatient nurse's caseload increased by about 125 patients.
Last year, state lawmakers cut about $1.1 million from Merced County's allocation for crisis and inpatient care. County health officials say they already are starting to prepare for even deeper cuts as the state looks to close its newest budget deficit (Gaines/Schoch, Merced Sun-Star, 1/29).
Local Lawmakers Respond
Local legislators say it is unlikely that the state will allocate new funds to bolster mental health services in Merced County.
Assembly member Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) said she plans to ask Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) about the possibility of securing emergency funds to assist Merced County residents with mental health issues.
Assembly Health Committee Chair Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) said he believes the best way to boost mental health care in Merced County would be for Congress to pass national health care reform legislation (Gaines/Schoch, Merced Sun-Star, 1/30).
"Merced County had been ground zero since the housing crisis started," a Merced Sun-Star editorial states, adding that the county also has experienced severe cuts in mental health services.The editorial continues that the county needs "systemic, structural solutions for the problem." It concludes, "Those solutions can only come from our leaders -- elected and appointed -- who must step forward" (Merced Sun-Star, 1/30). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.