At a ground breaking today to open a State Psychiatric Hospital in Southern Nevada, Governor Kenny Guinn became the first governor to propose state funding for problem gambling. KNPR's Ky Plaskon was there.
A surveyor tosses wood stakes on an empty lot in the west side of Las Vegas. The stakes will guide giant grading machinery to level the land. Nearby, a white tent flutters in the wind. Local leaders and governor Kenny Guinn use silver shovels there to scoop up and drop sand symbolizing that it will be the future site of services to the mentally ill. For the governor, serving the mentally ill started when he heard about a meeting near this same spot 20 years ago.
"I told my wife, I am going to go to that meeting and I am going to listen to what their problems are."
The meeting was for the parents of mentally and physically disabled children. He says he listened to them talk about how difficult it was to take care of their children until the age of 3 when the school district could help. The group was working on a special day care facility, but they needed 525-thousand dollars.
"I never felt so good as when I could walk up there and say I want to donate the 500-thousand dollars and it stands right there, right now. Now I don't want you to think that that was my money . . . but it was the money of a dear friend of mine . . . and it felt great and I thought that some day I wanted to get into a position where I could help somebody."
14 years later, as Governor, Guinn used general fund money for a mental health facility in Carson City and vowed to put the next one in Las Vegas. 3 years later plans were under way for a mental health hospital at the site of the groundbreaking adjacent to the CCSN West Charleston Campus. But neighbors were heavily opposed, and protesters were expected at the ground breaking. But none showed up, just one neighbor.
"The resident that came up before hand and talked to me she said that someone who represented her told her that the criminally insane would be here and it would affect all of their communities, when she heard that is not the case her attitude changed and she said thank you and welcome to the neighborhood."
The plans call for a 102-thousand square foot facility with 150 psychiatric beds. The funding for the 43 million dollar facility has already been approved by the legislature. Though funding for the staff has not been approved Guinn says it's not in jeopardy.
"In the history of when I have been here, they have never in the history approved the building and then not approved the staff. That would not be good for them at all."
What is in his budget that could be debated is a 40-bed expansion of the facility. The governor also said addiction to gaming can lead to mental health issues so he also became the first governor in the states history to propose funding for a new state mental health program focused on problem gambling. He's proposing it be funded 200-thousand dollars this year. A less controversial mental health proposal in the Governors budget is to fund a suicide hotline. Vic Davis, president of the Nevada Association off the Mentally Ill, knows how a suicide hotline fits in with other auxiliary services for the mentally ill.
"All that really does is get them out of the hospital and thinking clearly, and so that beggs the question, what are they thinking. Usually it is some version of my life sucks, okay, and this can lead to going off medicines and going on to drugs and so expanded outpatient services are key."
Last year the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department responded to 400 serious calls related to mental health - 92 of them threatening suicide. Davis expects the problem to get worse, he says population growth brings 400 new mentally ill residents here each month and that by the time the hospital opens in 2006 there will be 5-thousand more mentally ill in Las Vegas.
"I think it will solve a short and long term problem, in the last 4 years we have lost 136 private psychiatric beds, there are only 36 adult psychiatric beds in the entire valley and so you can see this is going to go a long way to solving that."
Carlos Brandenburg is the State Division of Mental Health Administrator.
"It is extremely expensive"
The 43 million dollar mental health hospital will cost 30 million dollars a year to operate because patients require specialized 24-hour treatment. Officials hope it will save money at the emergency rooms and prisons where the mentally ill are currently housed.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR
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