By AMY LINDBLOM
Forty of the 120 employees at Kings View Behavioral Health, the mental health services provider for Tuolumne County, were laid off Tuesday.
The layoff is a result of a $35 billion deficit in the state budget, and while Gov. Gray Davis has said no area of government will escape budget cuts, mental health services throughout the state are already taking huge hits.
"I've been working in mental health for 25 years and I've seen three major budget crises under the leadership of governors Brown, Wilson and now Davis, and each time they took out mental health programs," said Bea Readel, director of the Tuolumne County Behavioral Health Department.
Readel said she, county Administrator C. Brent Wallace and Kings View Executive Director Stephen Ellington have been working on how to deal with a $600,000 shortage but still maintain programs for people with chronic mental illnesses.
Since 1996, Tuolumne County has contracted with Kings View Mental Health System, a national company started in 1948 by the Mennonite community.
Kings View has mental health programs for children, adults and seniors as well as programs for people with chemical dependencies.
Despite a $100,000 budget shortfall for substance abuse programs, none of those programs was cut, Wallace said, and Kings View will make up for that shortfall with other program cuts.
Readel said the county and Kings View officials have known since last spring of the impending cuts. But layoffs were avoided until all other other options were considered. Ten Kings View employees were laid off in September after administrators were sure huge cuts were coming.
"There is just no good way to do this," Readel said. "While staff has known for a while the cuts were coming and layoffs were possible, everyone has been on pins and needles since October until the final decision was made."
Ellington and five program directors broke the news Tuesday to those who were losing their jobs and discussed program changes with remaining employees.