Las Vegas Sun

January 18, 2018

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Lawmakers restore mental health, disability funding in state budget

CARSON CITY – The budget committees of the Legislature agreed today to pump millions of dollars into the state’s mental health programs and to restore full funding for services to children with autism and other disabilities.

The Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, however, agreed to go along with Gov. Brian Sandoval to hire private psychiatrists and physicians to treat the mentally ill and eliminate some state positions.

The committees voted to restore $2.8 million for treatment of 113 children with autism. Assemblywoman April Mastroluca, D-Henderson, said putting these children on a waiting list results in unacceptable damage to the children.

She said it costs more in the long run to care for the children when they become adults.

The governor had included money for 61 families with children who have autism, but there was not enough money for the other 113 who receive occupational, physical and speech therapies, and behavioral training.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said there has been “much progress” made in treating such children.

The committees also rejected the recommendation of the governor to reduce funding for the self-directed Family Support Programs that provide financial assistance to 230 low-income families with developmentally disabled children. The money goes to services such as speech, behavioral therapies, skill development and training.

The move would restore $550,875 each year to the budget.

The committees agreed with the governor’s recommendation to transfer to the counties the $10 million cost of another program to treat the developmentally disabled. County officials indicated they didn’t like the shift since it was one of several programs the state is shedding.

On mental health programs, Sandoval recommends a $230.3 million two-year budget, a 14.6 percent decrease. The governor suggested eliminating some senior psychiatrists and doctors, and use the savings to contract with private physicians.

Legislative staff said the division has had trouble filling the positions because of low salaries and the reluctance to work 40 hours a week. An audit found the state-hired physicians weren't putting in a full 40-hour week.

Leslie said she wasn't in favor of private contractors making a profit off state service but a new direction was needed for the sufficient treatment of patients.

Chairwoman Debbie Smith of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee said the hiring of outside psychiatrists and physicians has to be closely monitored to determine if there are long-term savings.

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