RAMS mental health budget cuts hit hard

by Ed Moy

Clients and staff from Richmond Area Multi-Services, Inc. (RAMS) came out to speak in support of the non-profit organization's programs at a SF Board of Supervisors meeting looking to make mental health budget cuts in the city's upcoming budget.

Public support for RAMS came during public comments at the Board of Supervisors hearing, held June 17, and at the supervisors' Budget Committee meeting on June 19.

"Many of our clients inspired us by speaking before the Board of Supervisors," said Kavoos G. Bassiri, president and CEO at RAMS. "Their heroic stories of wellness and recovery clearly demonstrated why the services should be available, accessible and continued."

According to Bassiri, the proposed budget cuts of $383,000 - not including about a $250,000 budget shortfall due to increases in the cost of doing business, such as health insurance, workers compensation and utilities - would likely result in the discontinuation of services to 350 to 400 clients.

As a provider of mental health care, primarily serving Asian, Pacific Islander and Russian-speaking clients, RAMS has served the Richmond community since 1974.

Effects of the proposed budget cuts to the mental health clinic's services would include the elimination of a work training unit of the Hire-Ability Vocational Services of RAMS, which serves seriously mentally ill people who are monolingual Cantonese-speaking; a reduction of outpatient mental health services at Adult and Children Outpatient Services, which treats those with mental illness, the majority of whom are monolingual; reduction of mental health and medical services at RAMS' Broderick Street Adult Residential Facility, which serves clients with complex psychiatric and medical needs; and a reduction of Behavioral Health Services provided to students and their families at the Wellness Center at George Washington High School.

Bassiri further stated that "should the cuts go into effect and not be restored, RAMS Adult and Children Outpatient Clinic and vocational services programs would have to be reduced in its capacity to provide services to the community. A part-time bilingual Chinese-speaking behavioral health counselor at George Washington High School's Wellness Center, which serves a large, diverse student body, would be cut.

Recent data acquired by the SF Department of Public Health indicates that 82 percent of those utilizing a high school-based Wellness Center said they could communicate their feelings better and felt better about themselves.

Budget cuts to RAMS could also effect other non-profits, including subcontracted services provided by the Asian Pacific Islander Family Resources Network and Problem Gambling Project.

Bassiri pointed out that RAMS had a mental health crisis program called Bridge to Wellness, which was closed in April 2008, and since then RAMS has been informed of several serious suicide attempts and acute hospitalizations.

"The impact of these cuts may not be known until services are actually cut, and then the loss will be too big for us all," Bassiri stated in a letter to the Board of Supervisors. "Please reverse these cuts and engage us in being a part of the solution."

For additional information about RAMS, visit its Web site www.ramsinc.org.