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Some mental health patients turned away

FRANKFORT — Kentucky's state budget woes are affecting mental health treatment centers, some of which are for the first time having to turn people away.

For five decades, Bridgehaven — a non-profit community mental health center — has accepted anyone who needed help. This year, new clients who can't pay their bills are being turned away because of state budget cuts, The Courier-Journal reports. The center in Louisville can't afford to give free care.

"There seems to be no political will in the state at this moment to address the psychiatric problem," said Dr. Allan Tasman, chairman of psychiatry at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. "It won't change until it gets so bad the politicians can't avoid doing anything about it."

Mental health professionals in Kentucky say there is a growing crisis in mental health services throughout the state. The state's mental health system has been deteriorating rapidly because more clients lack health insurance and can't pay, Tasman said.

University Hospital, which does not turn down indigent patients, is frequently overcrowded.

"We see a variety of people who are extremely, acutely mentally ill," said Dr. Christina Butler, University Hospital's director of emergency psychiatric services. "We see people who have gotten desperate because they don't have anywhere to go."

Patient visits to the university's outpatient psychiatric clinic have jumped from 11,400 in 2003 to about 18,500 last year, according numbers provided by the university.

State Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, said the two-year budget Kentucky lawmakers enacted earlier this year "hurt everyone" in the state. Burch said he voted against the budget because it cut funding for human-service programs.

"We've done a disservice to the people," said Burch, the chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee.