Valley emergency rooms and jails could see a sharp rise in mentally ill patients if potential cuts to their health care services force them back to the streets.

ValueOptions for Arizona, which manages Maricopa County’s behavioral health system, warned that budget cuts will force agencies to drastically scale back services.

The company told providers Wednesday that it’s facing a $32 million cut to the county’s health services — with most of it affecting services for the seriously mentally ill.

That has some experts worried that patients could suffer from the lack of treatment and end up on the streets, where they pose a risk to themselves and others.

“There is no way to do this without hurting people,” said Dr. Frank Scarpati, CEO of Mesa-based Community Bridges substance abuse program. He said he recently met with Valley hospital officials and warned them about the proposed cuts.

He said that without proper treatment and care, many who suffer mental illness will end up in emergency rooms because they cannot take care of themselves.

Sherri Walton, vice president of the Arizona Health Care Association, said many of them could wind up in jail.

Talk of the proposed cuts prompted ValueOptions to call a special meeting Wednesday in Phoenix to discuss where providers could reduce services.

ValueOptions CEO Ed Irby asked his providers to trim a minimum of 7 percent from operating budgets.

He said providers should look at shortening the length of stay for patients and scaling back the number of individual counseling sessions. No decisions were made at the meeting, but providers are expected to recommend what they can afford to cut in the next couple of weeks.

An estimated drop in the number of people on Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System — the state’s Medicare program — is driving the budget cuts, said Eddy Broadway, deputy director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. ValueOptions funding is determined by the number of people on AHCCCS. When AHCCCS enrollment falls, funding falls.

DHS expects a federal law that requires people to show two forms of photo identification to qualify for the program could cut the number of people enrolled in the system.

But AHCCCS spokeswoman Rainey Daye Holloway said the agency doesn’t anticipate an enrollment loss.

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