Think net results

The recent court decision to block Sacramento County from making drastic changes to its mental-health services is good news. An already-fragile segment of our community should not have their lives further disrupted by the current economy.

It’s worth noting, however, that we shouldn’t need a judge to tell us that a system that’s working efficiently, with quantifiable results and high satisfaction ratings from its clients, should be one of the last things cut when looking for places to trim the county budget.

Mental health is a core service; it is the only hope many county residents have of maintaining anything like a normal life. A stable source of services makes it possible for some recipients to live independently, while others attain what independence their conditions allow.

In either case, these services help to keep our neighbors with mental-health issues out of jails and emergency rooms.

The services provided by the nonprofit agencies that contract with the county make it possible for most residents to think mental-health services aren’t necessary, because they work so well. People with properly treated mental-health issues are indistinguishable from the rest of the community.

But it’s important to remember that mental-health services are only part of the Sacramento County Health and Human Services Department that has been threatened. It’s extremely shortsighted to cut the budget for this department when the net result of those cuts will be a disproportionate drain on other county resources.

In fact, every cut to the county health department endangers us all. Don’t believe it? Think it through.

Taxpayers who resent paying for health services for the indigent and impoverished should take a longer view. Some may balk at providing detox facilities for people with alcohol problems. But the FBI reports that 40 percent of violent crimes have alcohol as factor. Isn’t it a better use of money to treat alcohol abuse than to prosecute crimes?

But every service provided by the Department of Health and Human Services has long-range impacts on the quality of life for those county residents who don’t use the services.

For instance, the public-health division deals with threats to taxpayers that include West Nile virus (signs have been found in mosquitoes in the county, but no human cases yet); infectious diseases like tuberculosis (and yes, that indigent person with drug-resistant tuberculosis is a problem for people who don’t want to pay for his care, because the bacteria doesn’t care who you are), influenza and the current outbreak of whooping cough in California; as well as outbreaks of Norovirus, which occur regularly in the Sacramento region.

Perhaps taxpayers would like to go back to the “frontier” days of early Sacramento, before we had a county government providing services. But don’t forget that those days included outrageous rates of infant mortality and regular epidemics of dysentery, cholera, typhoid and yellow fever, as well as outbreaks of violence fueled by alcohol and mental illness. Just go read the tombstones in our historic cemeteries, and then ask yourself: Is it worth fully funding the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services?

We think the answer is yes.