Arizona ranks lowest in mental health care and accessibility. Will $50 million fix this problem?

More than a dozen different groups gathered at the State Capitol Monday to make sure their voices are heard when it comes to mental health care in Arizona.

According to a study, PHOENIX Arizona ranks 49th in the nation in mental health care and accessibility. A bill in the Arizona House aims to change that by throwing $50 million at the problem.

Defenders of people suffering from mental illness and the invoice that would allocate the money gathered at the State Capitol on Monday as part of Mental Health Day.

The dozen or so groups that participated in the event are pushing lawmakers to work on solutions for mental health care in Arizona.

According to the group Mental Health America, a national nonprofit that advocates for mental health care and prevention, Arizona ranks 49th in the nation for mental health care and accessibility.

There are not enough beds

Over the last two decades, those beds, those services have really declined, said Rachel Streiff of Arizona Mad Moms. Statistically, for a population the size of Maricopa County, we should have about 2,200 acute and long-term psychiatric beds. And we don’t. This has been reduced to 55 beds, which is nothing.

Arizona Mad Moms was formed to speak on behalf of families who care for people with severe mental illness, also known as SMI. Streiff, who has been an outspoken advocate for more resources for SMI patients, came to the Capitol on Monday to push lawmakers to consider bills that would open up more psychiatric hospital beds for SMI patients.

House Bill 2782 would appropriate $50,000,000 from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, also known as AHCCCS, to establish five safe residential health facilities for the behavior for people experiencing homelessness.

Many of our children, and I hear this again and again from families, are trying to get their loved ones into a hospital bed, into a psychiatric treatment facility, because there is a shortage of beds and services for serious mental illness in Arizona, Streiff explained. Those children, those family members and I’m talking mostly about adults, grown children, they’re often released into the streets, often back to a mother who doesn’t have the resources to care for that person.

The same bill would prohibit municipalities from adopting or enforcing any policy that directly prohibits or discourages the enforcement of any order or ordinance that prohibits camping, sleeping or obstructing a public right of way, including roads and sidewalks. It was the basis of a protracted lawsuit between the city of Phoenix and businesses located along the area near the Human Services Campus in 2022.

Behavioral health staff is another issue that mental health advocates pushed for on Mental Health Day at the Capitol. Senate Bill 1036 would allow social workers licensed from other states to work in Arizona under a compact.

That’s one of our biggest concerns is that we don’t have the manpower that we need, said Kristina Sebetta, executive director of the NAMI Valley of the Sun Chapter. So this would help allow social workers and counselors to practice sooner rather than later within our state of Arizona.

Voices at the table

Our greatest hope is that legislatures learn about mental illness, know historically what Arizona has done about the Arnold settlement, said Kathy Bashor, president of the Arizona Coalition of Couples and Families. So they really know what’s going on, we’re afraid they’ll make decisions without really understanding the consequences.

Mental health care advocates want more lawmakers to discuss pending mental health bills with those most affected. Mad Moms said, at the request of lawmakers, they introduced 11 bills to the legislature this session. NAMI Valley of the Sun Chapter, an organization that supports caregivers with education and advocacy, encourages those who care for people with mental illness to make their voices heard.

We hear from representatives and senators all the time, Sebetta said. They don’t listen to us. They want to know about us. They want to hear from community members. They want to share your story. So if you have a history, if you have mental health issues or a family member, find your legislative district, find your legislators, you can go to azleg.gov and contact them. Let them know what’s important and what’s important to you.

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