Arizona is only as good as we treat the least of us... - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Opinion

Arizona is only as good as we treat the least of us...

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Posted: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 10:00 am | Updated: 4:28 pm, Thu May 5, 2011.

Many days and thousands of man hours into the investigation of the Tragedy in Tucson has not yet produced a motive for the carnage. What we do know is that the shooter, Jared Loughner, was at best mentally unstable.

From all accounts it appears that he may be both paranoid and schizophrenic. Unfortunately, he was undiagnosed. Citizens in this state have a right to report to authorities someone that appears to be mentally unstable and that person can be involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluation for up to 72 hours. One wonders why Pima Community College failed to report Loughner after numerous incidents where his bizarre classroom behavior required that campus police intervene. Would the shooting have been adverted? It appears that like so many seriously mentally ill people in this state Loughner fell through the cracks without treatment, medication or intervention only to play out his psychosis with a gun.

Arizona has an abysmal history in caring for the seriously mentally ill. So bad, in fact, that 30 years ago a class-action lawsuit, Arnold vs. Sarns, was successfully litigated to insure that the Arizona Legislature fund those entities providing care for the seriously mentally ill. Unfortunately, future governors and Legislatures never really adhered to the ruling claiming that "they had no money."

Recently, Arnold vs. Sarns was stayed for two years so the governor and the Legislature could balance the budget. Unfortunately, it's being balanced on the backs of the least of us - the seriously mentally ill, seniors, the disabled, children, the poor, etc.

Today, the seriously mentally ill are back in the streets, homeless with no case managers and, worse, without their medications. At the end of 2010, the Arizona Legislature eliminated an additional $14 million for the care of the seriously mentally ill.

Most all of us realize that state government faces close to a billion-dollar deficit and budget cuts have to be made. However, what does the Legislature believe will happen to the homeless mentally ill now that there is no money for their treatment? Surely they aren't hoping that the general public reports them for a 72-hour psychiatric evaluation! That would put them right back in the system at the taxpayer's expense. Our Legislature needs to re-examine its budget priorities and restore necessary funding for the treatment of the seriously mentally ill or we run the risk of additional tragedies. Arizona is only as good as we treat the least of us.

Jon Beydler is a 32-year Valley resident and the former mayor of Fountain Hills. He lives in south Chandler.

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