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Suicide Stirs Fear of Added Health Fund Cuts

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A group of doctors and counselors warned Thursday that Los Angeles County could face more cases like the AIDS patient who committed suicide in a Mid-City shelter earlier this week if the Board of Supervisors approves further drastic cuts in mental health programs.

Claiming that the county has few facilities that can simultaneously provide for both the physical and mental needs of AIDS patients, the mental health advocates said that those gripped by AIDS-related dementia would be even more at risk if the county proceeds with $41.9 million in funding cutbacks.

On Tuesday, as the county held hearings into the threatened cutbacks, an AIDS patient at the Casa de Nuestra Senora shelter opened fire at staffers in the residence and then at police, holding officers at bay for four hours before firing a fatal shot into his head.

Shelter workers said later that the patient, Alberto Alvizuri, 34, had been gripped by worsening toxoplasmosis and AIDS dementia and was about to be transferred to a hospital.

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“This tragedy could be repeated throughout Los Angeles County as we lose more services,” said Dr. Ann Brand, president of the Assn. of Community Mental Health Agencies of Los Angeles County.

Sally Jue, a mental health program manager at AIDS Project Los Angeles, added that “when (AIDS patients) become dangerous, most AIDS hospices and shelters are just not equipped to handle them.”

Jue said that as AIDS patients have been able to live longer with advances in medicine, her facility has begun seeing increased cases of serious dementia among them. Studies have shown that between 80% and 90% of AIDS patients experience some form of dementia over the course of their fatal disease, Jue said.

As a result, any cuts in mental health funding would come at the worst possible time, said Jue and other mental health advocates. Diane Bloom, director of counseling for the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, said that her agency has seen a 25% increase over the last three months in the number of AIDS patients coming in with “immediate crises.”

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“We’re not a crisis unit, but we’re becoming one,” she said.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors took steps to offset the projected mental health cuts with $8 million in new utility and hotel taxes and pleas to local cities to come up with another $30 million.

Soon after the meeting, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley rejected that request.


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