State health chief says mentally ill would suffer under House budget

State health chief says mentally ill would suffer under House budget

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The word is getting out locally, and some mental health care professionals cannot stomach it.

Dr. Rebekah Gee with the Louisiana Department of Health said that mental health services are in peril, given the budget the Republican-controlled state House passed instead of the spending plan submitted by her boss, Gov. John Bel Edwards.

"Quite honestly, it's horrifying. It's absolutely horrifying," said Scottie Klock, a licensed professional counselor working in New Orleans.

Dr. Gee said mental health services for people with government-funded Medicaid coverage would suffer if the much leaner state operating budget passed by the state house becomes law.

"The other things we're looking at cutting are all all mental health services for Medicaid. We're talking about psychiatric beds, we're talking about mental health services, we're talking about other things as well like pediatric day health, psycho-social rehab for youth," said Dr. Gee.

"Without good mental health people struggle in every area of their lives," said Klock.

He spoke emphatically about his concerns.

"I was looking up the statistics and there are over a million recipients of Medicaid in Louisiana, most of whom are children, and we've found that these people are in need of the help. There's anxiety, there's depression with children that I have worked with. I've seen sexual abuse, sexual trauma," Klock said.

And he pointed out that the poverty in which many New Orleanians live causes mental issues.

"In New Orleans, you know, there are so many people who are at, or below the poverty line and not only would they not be able to get these services but the stressors that just come along with being at or below the poverty line - that creates a lot of mental health problems, behavioral problems as a result of just chaos in the household. And none of these people who are in need of the services would be able to get them. They don't have private insurance and they can't afford $75 to $100 a session, so what else are going to do?" asked Klock.

And because the effects of mental illness can be pervasive, communities as a whole can feel the impact

"This budget puts everyone in the state at risk. Imagine no mental health services for Medicaid.  You want to talk about increases in crime, you want to talk about increases in homelessness, you want to talk about increases in death," Dr. Gee said.

New Orleans already has crime and homelessness problems.

"I understand that money is an issue, but the reality is we either help people now and deal with things on the front end, or you're going to be spending this money anyway on the back end and try to deal with a more chaotic society," said Klock.

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