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Seattle Times

Sunday, April 3, 2005
Letters to the editor

Mental-health crunch

You may have read the facts and figures on the mental-health-care crisis Washington state is facing. We're due to lose $82 million in federal Medicaid revenues over the next two years, and Medicaid funds almost 90 percent of state community mental-health services.

As an emergency physician, I see the people behind those numbers. I know from firsthand experience that, at a time when people with mental illness are already facing shortages in services and facilities, the Medicaid cuts could be devastating.

Keep in mind that most of the emergency departments in Washington are "at" or "over" capacity, and the demand for care continues to grow. When you combine that with declining access to mental-health services, the result is a crunch that hurts everyone. The situation could get much, much worse unless our state leaders act.

To be sure, there are many causes of overcrowding, including the growing number of Americans without health insurance, cutbacks in reimbursement from Medicaid, Medicare and other payers, denials of coverage from health-care plans, etc.

Gov. Christine Gregoire and the Legislature face some tough choices as they struggle with the state budget crisis and the looming Medicaid cuts. I hope they make the smart choice too, finding ways to expand support for mental-health services, which will in turn help improve everyone's access to lifesaving medical care in emergency departments.

— Dr. Dean Gushee, president, Washington Chapter American College of Emergency Physicians, Shelton

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