Alabama plans to shut down four of its six mental hospitals, laying off 948 employees in the process, by next year, state officials announced this week. By next May, only two facilities will remain open, one for criminal suspects, and another for geriatrics, the New York Times reports. The move is the latest attempt to cut costs by the cash-starved state, which has already cut mental health funding by 36% since 2009.
The mental health budget may be cut another 25% next year, essentially forcing this move. But closing the hospitals may actually be a good thing for patients. Most will be moved to small group homes or private hospitals, which mental health advocates believe provide better care. "The hospital tends to be an alienating environment," the head of one group explained. "You often get warehoused and institutionalized. But we need to make sure there are enough community centers for these patients."