Protesters demand stop to sequestration, mental health funding cuts

2013-08-14T18:15:00Z 2013-08-15T10:43:08Z Protesters demand stop to sequestration, mental health funding cutsVanessa Renderman vanessa.renderman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3244 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | Protesters rallied outside the federal courthouse Wednesday in Hammond, demanding a stop to the federal sequestration and cuts to mental health services.

About 50 mental health workers and supporters carried signs and chanted, "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! These budget cuts have got to go!"

Indiana could lose $5.7 million in mental health and substance abuse funding because of the sequester, said Adam Rosen, citing White House figures.

Rosen, spokesman for Service Employees International Union 73, which includes mental health and social service workers in Indiana and Illinois, said data compiled from the state website shows Indiana has cut mental health funding by $40 million since 2010.

The union organized the courthouse rally.

Ruth Dekker, a social worker at Regional Mental Health Center, has worked in the industry since the mid-1970s. The Gary woman has witnessed the impact of continued funding cuts.

"Whenever budgets get cut, programs get cut, our clients suffer," she said.

People are shifted from program to program or to different clinics, and they often don't have transportation, she said.

"There was a time when they were putting homes in the community, and now people end up on the street," Dekker said.

An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

"My guess is it touches people closer to home than they know," Dekker said.

Dekker and Brian Fesko, a board member for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Porter County, were among the protesters who stood behind a megaphone at the rally and shared their story.

Fesko suffers from mental illness and knows what it's like not to have needed services or medicine. Politicians need to be more compassionate and understand that those with mental illness are people, too, he said.

The strain of fewer resources forces workers to do more with less, said Paula Haley, a social service worker for Envision Unlimited in Chicago.

"Staff that retire, staff that leave are not being replaced," Haley said. "It saddens me. People in need of mental health services aren't getting it."

Tim Ball, assistant division director for the union, referenced the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December in Newtown, Conn., which sparked discussion about the state of mental health care in our nation.

"The government has let us down after Newtown," Ball said.

Mark Lopez, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, spoke on behalf of the congressman, saying sequestration is "a stupid way to run a government."

Lopez said Visclosky voted against the sequestration and thinks the deficit should be addressed with compromise.

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