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Commentary: Vital Mental Health Services Missing

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, April 9, 2010
Before she was shot by Placerville Police, mental health patient Linda Clark hijacked an ambulance from Marshall Hospital and led police on a slow speed chase through town. When cornered, police say, she tried to run them over.
No doubt, the hospital will be asked why Clark was not better monitored. El Dorado Fire will review why the ambulance Clark stole was not better secured. Placerville police will scrutinize every second of their slow speed chase, and the officer who shot Clark will face tough questions - all appropriate.
But here’s my question: What part did the state’s collapsing mental health system play in this tragedy?
Clark was clearly troubled. She had summoned Folsom police to her home six times in four months with bizarre complaints, one about an alleged prowler who was threatening to cut off her legs. Neighbors say she could be heard moaning at night.
Because of privacy laws, we can’t know if she sought mental health help. But we do know getting such help has become harder. Sacramento County’s mental health budget has taken a $48 million dollar hit over the last three years. El Dorado County mental health has lost 30% of its budget.
The mental health system is as vital part of the public safety network as police and fire. If something is not done to protect it, more people will end up like Linda Clark.
Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.
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