State legislators are speaking out after an ABC15 Investigation revealed a major hole in Arizona’s mental healthcare system for children.
Some suicidal children are being turned away because there are no beds in psychiatric facilities to treat them. These children are mostly middle-class and are on their parents’ private insurance.
Like Steven Yates.
We first told you about Steven and his family a few months ago . The Yates could not get their suicidal child into a mental health in-patient facility.
At 17, Steven struggles with autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
The ABC15 Investigators found with statewide budget cuts and varying protocols, facilities often have few, if any, in-patient beds available for mentally ill children.
Part of the problem is that facilities and hospitals don't know if insurance will cover the full cost. When it doesn't, they are forced to absorb the difference.
So, when the Steven went to the Emergency Room at St. Luke's last month, they were told, once again, there were no beds.
They practically forced their way in.
“You shouldn't have to have a mom and dad to the point where they have to force their way in and say 'take care of my kid, now,'" said State Representative Victoria Steele.
She is also a licensed counselor. Steele is the only legislator currently trying to get additional funding for mental healthcare for children.
“Parents should not have to struggle to the extent that this family has struggled,” said Steele.
House Bill 2490 would allocate $250,000 to train anyone who works with teens to recognize mental health issues early.
“If we can get on the front end of this, give parents and teachers and kids the help that they need, then we may not need so much on the other end when it comes to providing hospital beds for seriously mentally-ill,” she said.
But, Steele knows $250,000 isn't much. Money has been the center for the problem, for years.
The ABC15 Investigators found from 2009 -2011, our state government cut about $75 million from the Division of Behavioral Health. The following year, they got about $39 million of it back.
“We can't starve the people from the services that they need,” said Steele, “You can't take that much money out of behavioral health services and expect everybody to be just fine.”
Steven was released after three weeks and several escape attempts. However just last week, Steven tried to commit suicide again. It is back at St. Luke’s.
His mother told us he is not doing well. She said until doctors can find a combination of medications that can stabilize Steven, the cycle in and out of the hospital will continue.
MAY 5 UPDATE: Rep. Steele succeeded in allocating $250,000 to the state budget in 2014 for Youth Mental Health First Aid.