Local News

Budget cuts hitting mental health with 'vengeance'

Posted October 1, 2009
Updated October 7, 2009

— Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and social anxiety disorder, Vinh Gazoo has been in a psychiatric hospital five times.

Recently released from jail after a six-month sentence stemming from a crime resulting from his mental health issues, Gazoo says he now survives week to week because of the Mental Health Association in North Carolina.

Vinh Gazoo Budget cuts hitting mental health with 'vengeance'

A nonprofit association that helps mental health patients, the organization helps pay for his medication. Its employees and volunteers drive him to doctor's appointments and therapy sessions.

Gazoo was notified this week that those services have been dropped because of state budget cuts.

The $19 billion state budget resulted in a nearly 12.75 percent or $738 million decrease in the Department of Health and Human Services' anticipated $5.54 billion budget for the fiscal year.

About $75 million of DHHS's community services $390 million budget, which helps fund the Mental Health Association was cut, according to executive director John Tote.

"The cuts we have been waiting on from the General Assembly, they're here now, and they're hitting with a vengeance," he said.

Now, the Mental Health Association is laying off approximately 40 percent of its employees.

"Those 175 folks – in the positions they have – affect the lives of about 2,000 individuals across the state (who have) significant mental illness," Tote said.

He estimates approximately 4,000 mental health providers across the state will soon be out of work. The result, he says, will be thousands of patients without services.

Tote blames lawmakers, saying they were much more concerned with politics than providing services for DHHS.

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, who serves on the state House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services and also chairs the mental health legislative committee, agrees.

Insko says she doesn't think most lawmakers fully grasped the budget cuts and the impact they would have. For many people with mental illness, she says, there is no safety net other than emergency rooms and mental hospitals.

"As an advocate, it's galling," Tote said. "As a person, it's sad – terribly sad."

For Gazoo – now, his option is a walk-in clinic, but he says he has no way to pay for the services he needs and no way to get there. He says he'll likely either wind up back in jail or in a psychiatric facility.

"That's the two choices I have, because without my medication, I get pretty violent," he said.

9 Comments

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  • NCMacMan Oct 2, 11:51 a.m.

    Remember, Easley is the one who spear-headded the most recent mental healthcare reform in our state which reduced the number of mental health beds in NC. This change was a complete bust and now we are just barely starting to see the hurt that the Easley governorship did to mental health care.

  • tallman209 Oct 2, 10:12 a.m.

    Rep Verla Insko says she doesn't think that legislators understood the impact of the budget cuts they made to the mental health system. What an interesting observation on her part, given that she was co-chair of the Health and Human Services Appropriations committe that WROTE the mental health budget.

  • lizard Oct 2, 9:46 a.m.

    If Mr. Tote is head of the "non profit" organization then how does he draw a salary? Somebody has got to make some money somewhere if their "product" is beneficial. If not, they should be shut down or reorganize thru bankruptcy.

  • Oct 2, 9:26 a.m.

    Perdue has shown her true colors - (RED) as in communist. Remove services that we already paid taxes to fund, put more people out of work even though stimulus money provided relief from this, I think there is more theft in the henhouse and the peoplepaying the price today are the taxpaying citizens of NC, the recently unemployed in NC, the mentally ill in NC and our children who we look to provide future NC growth. Oust the politicians, bring on the protests, impeachment trials.

  • freedomrings Oct 2, 8:37 a.m.

    I'm fiscally conservative and normally don't support the broad welfare programs that are offered and given to way too many people. I think families and charities used to fill that role and it's not the government's place to do it all. However, I do make an exception for those that suffer from mental illness. Once one gets involved and starts to see the number of homeless people that suffer from mental illness ( not alcoholism or drug abuse ) then you can see how much we need these programs. These people truly suffer and without treatment they become a huge tax on society and can ( depending on the illness ) become dangerous.

    I don't understand why we're cutting the public education budget and services to the mentally ill, but most local parks have a nice new mulch job and new flowers installed, makes no sense to me at all.

  • whatelseisnew Oct 2, 8:34 a.m.

    By the way; the so-called Health Care Reform. This is a great peek at the future only it will be everybody covered by public funding, not just people with mental impairments.

  • squawk08 Oct 1, 7:35 p.m.

    The mental health system is broken, too much money was wasted, just like the education system, of course the bad thing is that people who really need help, now can not get it.

  • whatelseisnew Oct 1, 7:17 p.m.

    I do not much support monetary handouts by the Government. The man described in this story is one of those cases where I make an exception. We "society" could easily handle the cost of taking care of those that "truly" need our help. However, dragging around millions that do not need help, but get it, erodes our ability to properly care for people like this man. I am not sure when the politicians will figure this out, but perhaps one day they will get it.

  • lizard Oct 1, 6:16 p.m.

    This will save me tax money and the lack of money disorder I'm suffering from. If they can guage the success of a stimulus package by the number of jobs "saved" then why can't we gauge the success of the mental health programs by the numbers that don't need their service because we get to keep more of our own money?