grams, not only deepening the crisis but extinguishing the very programs that offer solutions. The budget cuts will be hardest felt in rural areas like the flat farmland of West Texas’ Concho Valley. Michael Campbell runs the small MHMR community center in San Angelo. The center is the lone mental health clinic for the surrounding seven counties. This being West Texas, only 130,000 people live in those seven counties, but some must drive up to 85 miles to reach the San Angelo clinic. The center is so poorly funded, Campbell and his staff struggle just to provide what services they can. For adults, MHMR funds the center $1.2 million. With that, along with Medicaid, Campbell and his staff treat more than 500 adults each month. Still, they must turn away six of every 10 adults seeking treatment, simply due to cash shortages. Campbell estimates 1,400 children in his area require mental health services. MHMR provides enough money to care for 65. Patching together a mix of Medicaid, CHIP and funds from a pilot wraparound program called Texas Council on Offenders with Mental scrounges up services for about 300 children a year. That’s not even a quarter of those who need it. Think of mental health funding as a three-legged stool, comprised of MHMR, the criminal justice system. The legislature is weighing 12 percent cuts to all three legs. Those cuts, Campbell says, would mean his clinic couldn’t treat any of those 500 adults each month. The center could offer “emergency services” only. Care for children would be substantially reduced as well. “It would be balancing the budget on the backs of children,” Campbell says. “You hear that a lot and it’s a cliche, but it’s true:’ When Hale finishes outlining the budget cuts, a steady stream of the mentally ill and their families step forward to testify. Among them is Tom Aiken. He sits before the microphone, and in three minutes, tells the story of his daughter, Linda. His outsized hands betray his long-time work as a machinist, though now they shake slightly when he writes or dials a phone. His tale is so horrific, it causes committee chair Rep. Arlene Linda Aiken was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic eight years ago, at age 21, and was forced to leave her job at a nursing center. She struggled with the disease for years. At one point, she improved enough, thanks to a new generation drugs, to work for two years at Wal-Mart. But in 2000, the drugs’ effectiveness began to wear off, and Linda’s condition started a steady descent. By November 2001, her delusions became so intense that Tom and his wife Kathy would drive their daughter around Hill Country back roads all night to calm her down. Tom Aiken tried for two years to secure adequate services for Linda, both from MHMR and private doctors. But drugs had little effect and counseling sessions weren’t much help, either. Linda needed to be hospitalized. But all state hospitals, then as now, were full. Even if there was room, it’s unlikely Linda would have gone voluntarily, and state officials told Tom Aiken they couldn’t commit Linda until she demonstrated she was a threat to herself or others. Tom argued that, as a delusional schizophrenic, Linda would never make such an admission until it was too late. By early 2002, Linda’s delusional spats were worsening. One morning, Linda walked into the kitchen and announced she had been pregnant the night before, but wasn’t this morning. She demanded to know what Kathy and Tom had done with her baby. It was clear Linda needed 24-hour supervision. So Kathy left her job to stay home and care for her daughter. By the July 4th weekend of last year, Linda’s condition was the worst Torn had ever seen it. He was still desperately trying to get Linda hospitalized, but he couldn’t get her into an MHMR state hospital. Private facilities cost $1,200 a day. Tom calculated it would take Linda at least a month to stabilize and he couldn’t afford $40,000. Sunday, July 7, was Torn and Kathy’s 29th wedding anniversary. The next day,Tom went to work. Kathy called to say everything was fine that morning. Don’t forget to get orange juice on the way home, she told him. Shortly after that phone call, Linda Aiken attacked her mother. Linda weighs 340 pounds. She laid on top of her mother until Kathy suffocated to death. After the murder, Linda was finally put in residential treatment, at the North Texas State Hospital, the center for defendants found incompetent to stand trial. Aiken flatly blames Kathy’s death on the state’s lack of mental health services and state officials’ inability to commit Linda. Because of its mental health crisis, he says,Texas is riding the cusp of a wave of similar preventable deaths. “People ask me all the time, how did Linda fall through the cracks?” Tom says. “I tell them, there was no floor. Do I blame the State of Texas? You better believe it. I’ve looked back over it and wondered if there’s anything I could’ve done. And if I knew then, what I know now, I’d have moved to Kansas.” A few days after Aiken’s testimony, I intercept Arlen Wohlgemuth after a press conference. As chair of the appropriations subcommittee on health and human services, she has a large say on funding for mental health services. Wohlgemutha staunch conservative and anchor of the no taxes, cut spending crowdseemed genuinely moved by the mental health testimony, especially Tom Aiken’s story. “It’s heartbreaking,” she says when I mention Aiken. But when I ask about increased funding for mental health, she offers typical politicians’ assurances. “I’m looking under every rock to find more funding,” she insists. She makes clear, that for now, that doesn’t include increased taxes. How many more deaths, ruined lives and shattered families are necessary before Wohlgemuth and her colleagues change their minds? 3/28/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19
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