County cuts $800K from mental health services

      EUGENE, Ore. - Staff cuts were made to the mental health care division of Lane County Health and Human Services to help reduce costs after state support declined by $800,000.

      The cuts affect about 20 jobs, including 4 full-time and 5 part-time. They are also eliminating 7 positions that are currently vacant. The county is also laying off one mental health clinician and an administrative assistant at a community health center.

      "We've made some investments over time and trying to prepare for our health care transformation and we need to be able to live within our means," said Karen Gaffney, the agency's acting director.

      The agency provides services to clients, many of whom are low-income or uninsured.

      Gaffney said the program is a "safety net" for these people.

      But the National Alliance on Mental Illness sees cuts to staffing as cuts to that safety net.

      "Mental health is a lot of times put on the back burner," said Jose Soto with NAMI. "It's not looked at as strongly as physical health. If this was a cancer treatment center, people would be up in arms about it. The stigma around mental health is still so great."

      Gaffney said they're doing all they can to compensate for the budget loss.

      "Making sure we have our financial house in order, have a stable financial base," she said. "We're going through everyone's case load, making sure that everyone on our caseloads are the people who really need us the most."

      Although there have been some cuts to the health staff, county clinics are still providing services.

      "We're absolutely still open for people who need the services we provide and for years in the community we worked in partnerships with nonprofits in the community and will continue to do that," Gaffney said.