Concern builds as mental health patients, providers, caregivers brace for possible budget cuts

Huntsville
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)-- North Alabama has already seen some mental health center closures.

Now, organizations brace for another blow. The state Department of Mental Health's budget could be slashed by $35 million, which doesn't include other matching federal funds, according to a memo from Governor Robert Bentley's office.

A meeting in Huntsville, similar to others around the region, highlighted the impact on patients, providers, and caregivers.

Wellstone Behavioral Health CEO Brian Davis said the organization is bracing for some hefty losses. "[We expect to lose] just under 1.5 million dollars... and we translated that into the hundreds of people we couldn't serve," he told the audience. "The number of jobs that would be lost."

He said unfortunately, there's just no more wiggle room to operate under budget constraints as drastic as those projected.

"I'm not sure there's any contingency available except reducing services at this point," he said.

Several patients, parents of patients, and other community leaders spoke up too.  Shelia Townsend said the mental health system saved her, and she doesn't know what would happen if it were to be slashed as anticipated.

"I have tried to commit suicide 19 times," she said. "I had lost all my dignity. All my friends... and I must say I owe my life to the mental health [centers] and also my peers... they showed me how to live."

Right now, answers aren't as clear as the questions that remain. But speakers issued a call to action to find a solution: contact your legislators and be proactive.

"Get out there and have a voice," said Susan Klingel of The Arc of Madison County. "So many times I've been to the Legislature and they'll say, 'No one calls me.'"

Representative Laura Hall from House District 19 in Huntsville was the only legislator to attend the meeting.

"I am sure that I will have some discussions between now and when we vote," she said when asked if she will act. "How it will impact what happens, I'm not sure, but certainly it did move me [to be here.]"

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