Hundreds protest health service cuts

April 21, 2009 6:59:40 PM PDT
Several hundred people filled the Santa Clara County Board chambers this morning to speak out against an estimated $160 million in proposed budget cuts for county health services.

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Representatives from organizations like the Mexican American Community Services Agency and Mental Health Matters, the county's Department of Drug and Alcohol Services and other county health employees spoke about the safety net their services provide for county residents.

One 26-year-old speaker, who said she had a history with drugs, credited the counseling she received from DADS for helping her work off her restitution and find housing and employment.

The woman said her case manager "has been guiding me the whole way," although the program could face serious cuts.

"It would be devastation to lose that dream," she said.

Other residents who suffer from mental illness said county programs keep them out of jail, or the hospital, and in many cases have helped them find jobs and contribute to society.

At a rally before the supervisors' meeting, John Mitchem, president of the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, noted that reducing county services would make it more difficult for the mentally ill population to seek treatment, which often leads to medical problems.

Mitchem gave an example of a family friend's daughter, whose insufficient treatment for a mental illness caused a medical condition. She spent a week in intensive care, he said, and two more weeks in the hospital.

"It cost the county much, much, much more than simply giving her adequate treatment for her mental health problems," he said.

In recession times, people rely on county services even more, he said, as they lose jobs and health insurance.

Acting County Supervisor Gary Graves said the public health-related county departments have submitted "reduction proposals" to his office. These proposals are being evaluated, he said.

Graves said the county is "facing a very difficult number of decisions" in evaluating these "very essential services" in its eighth consecutive year of budget deficits.

Members of the public will have more opportunities to speak on budget matters in May and June, he said.

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