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'Major Health Crisis' 


  New Orleans City Council members and other city officials blasted Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration and Louisiana State University (LSU) Interim Hospital management last Thursday (Feb. 15) for proposing $15 million in mid-year cuts to local mental health services. The criticisms came during a meeting of the council's Criminal Justice Committee at City Hall.

  While noting that most mental health patients are not criminals, Dr. Karen DeSalvo, the city's health commissioner, said the cuts will most affect those with the highest risk of harming themselves or others. "I honestly believe this is a major health crisis and a threat to this community," DeSalvo said.

  The hospital announced this month it will have to cut as many as 110 full-time positions, eliminate its chemical detox unit, close 19 mental health beds and four emergency beds, and eliminate $2 million in services for state prisoners. LSU officials, including Interim Hospital CEO Dr. Roxanne Townsend, who attended the meeting, have blamed the state for the cuts, citing the administration's decision late last year to shift $50 million in federal funds, traditionally allocated to the hospital system, to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH).

  The Jindal administration says the problem is LSU's, adding that the university overspent its budget. "The issue they find themselves in today is a spending issue, not a reduction in budget," said Dr. Tony Speier, DHH assistant secretary in the Office of Behavioral Health.

  Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens told the committee the cuts will likely exacerbate the city's crime problem, as dangerous patients will likely go untreated. Sens read off an analysis showing that, over a 16-month period, Municipal Court judges ordered 246 mental health evaluations of defendants, 160 of whom were found to be incompetent to stand trial. Of those, 23 had cycled back into the court a total of 75 times.

  "If you don't give these people help here, you're going to be spending money sending them through (Orleans Parish jails) at $23 per day," Sens said. — CHARLES MALDONADO


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