Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2014

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Panel OKs $3.5 million for mental health services

A legislative committee Thursday approved $3.5 million in emergency funds to increase services for the mentally ill in Las Vegas, but lawmakers cautioned that much more funding is needed to fix the struggling mental health delivery system.

Sen. Debbie Smith, chairwoman of the Legislative Interim Finance Committee, said this money will not meet all of the state's needs. “We better brace ourselves,” referring to potential requests in the 2015 Legislature for additional funds.

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said, “This ($3.5 million) is a small piece to make a difference.” She added there are a lot of needs still to be met.

The committee approved the request from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Council.

Assemblyman Andy Eisen, D-Las Vegas, said this initial step must be taken but it will be a long time before the problems are solved.

Mike Willden, Sandoval's chief of staff, said the money will be used for improvements at the Rawson Neal mental hospital in Las Vegas. He said 21 beds were recently added.

Mobile teams will be created to help police officers handle people on the street with mental problems. These are individuals who often rely on hospital emergency rooms for mental health help.

Also, 19 more workers in Southern Nevada and eight in Northern Nevada were cleared to staff mobile crisis units for children. Psychiatric evaluations, medications and respite care will be provided to reduce these children's visits to the ER or detention centers.

In another matter, the committee was told it will cost $28 million for the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange to a joint federal-state system. The board of directors of the Silver State Exchange decided to end its contract with Xerox because of the numerous problems encountered by Nevadans trying to sign up for insurance coverage.

Ninety percent of that cost will come from the federal government. There has been some transfer of funds from various divisions to meet the state’s share.

About 37,000 individuals have chosen an insurance company and paid their premiums in the health exchange. The initial sign-up goal was 118,000 enrollees.

The federal system's next enrollment signup period starts Nov. 15.

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